LOS ANGELES – Anthony Davis appeared in pain as he clutched his right leg.
After bumping knees with Memphis’ Josh Jackson Jr., Anthony hunched over. He struggled to run up and down the court for two consecutive possessions. The Lakers subbed out Davis, who walked to the locker room shortly after receiving treatment on the bench. He then sat in the trainer’s room for nearly an entire quarter.
For those that worried Davis suffered a debilitating injury, they soon realized those fears were unfounded. Sure, the Lakers diagnosed Anthony with a strained right calf. That did not stop Davis, though, from playing the final three quarters en route to a 117-105 win over the Grizzlies on Friday at Staples Center. That did not stop Davis from finishing with 28 points on 8-of-17 shooting along with 13 rebounds and seven blocks.
No wonder Lakers coach Frank Vogel described Davis’ play as “another Defensive Player of the Year type of night.” Davis has fulfilled that job description partly by proving he can remain durable.
“As long as they tell me it’s nothing serious, I’ll go out there and play,” Davis said of the Lakers’ training staff. “You don’t know until you check all the boxes. But anytime they tell me I’m cleared and it’s not going to hurt me to go out there and play, I’m going to try to go out there and play.”
Anthony Davis grimaces as he examined by a trainer after suffering an apparent injury to his leg. (Photo: Robert Hanashiro, USA TODAY Sports)
Davis has spent his first season with the Lakers in front of an audience nervously awaiting for him to suffer a major injury. And why wouldn’t they? Through seven seasons in New Orleans, Davis missed at least seven games in each season due of various ailments — left index finger, back, left knee, right shoulder, left hand and left ankle. Davis sat for 26 games last year for reasons beyond requesting the Pelicans to trade him.
No player is fully immune from a potentially debilitating injury. If that happens to Davis, the Lakers will morph from a championship contender to a playoff team that might sniff a first or second-round exit. Technically, Davis has already missed seven games. But Davis deserves more praise for how quickly he has overcome ailments than concern on if he will experience something too painful to tolerate.
“We just try to set a culture,” Davis said. “We want to build a foundation.”
Davis has shown so far that his foundation is fairly sturdy. Every time Lakers fans have gasped over Davis taking a scary fall, he has gotten up.
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Davis felt soreness in his right shoulder after dunking awkwardly against Charlotte on Oct. 27. Two days later against Memphis, Davis played through the soreness and finished with 40 points and 20 rebounds. Davis took such a hard fall against the New York Knicks on Jan. 7 that he stayed on the ground for several minutes before limping to the locker room and receiving x-rays. Though Davis sat the next five games to heal the soreness in his lower back, that pales to the amount of time the Lakers initially feared Davis would miss.
Against the Grizzlies on Friday, Vogel still conceded he felt “nervous” when Davis bumped knees. Davis described the initial collision as “pretty painful.” Those concerns quickly subsided. Davis ran out to the court just as the second quarter started. Though he later described his right calf as "swollen" as he sat by his locker, clearly it did not prevent Davis from dominating.
“I just felt like I was able to get back on the floor and play,” Davis said. The leg felt good enough for me to go out and give it a try. I'm just trying to stay loose and stay warm so it won’t tighten back up. But I just want to be on the floor to help the guys.”
Davis did not just help the guys. He excelled in every way with his post presence, outside shooting, rim protection and defensive communication. As Lakers star LeBron James mused, “I knew if he came back, he was going to give what he had for the team.”
Davis has done that enough to remain a strong favorite to win the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year award.
“I’m not playing defense for that, but it is appealing,” Davis said. “I would love to have that award several times before I retire — which is not soon. But I think just trying to set a standard for one myself and two, my team on the defensive end and the rest of the guys will follow and I’m just trying to help guys on their beat.”
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