Anthony Davis to the rescue. After missing two months with a calf injury, Anthony Davis returns to the court tomorrow night when the Los Angeles Lakers meet the Dallas Mavericks in a crucial Western Conference series.
The big question everybody will be looking for answers to in Dallas is how much better will the return of Anthony Davis make the LeBron-less Lakers? Will AD’s return elevate the Lakers and stop any slide lower than 5th seed? Considering Davis will be on a minutes restriction and hasn’t played in two months, will his addition be enough for the Lakers to dominate and sweep the 2-game series with the Mavs and doom them to the Play-In Tourney?
The Lakers are in 5th place in the Western Conference with a 35–23 record with 14 games left in the regular season. The Mavs are in 7th place with 30–26 record, 1 loss behind the 6th place Blazers and 3 losses behind the Lakers. The 2-game back-to-back series between the two teams is critical for playoff positioning as the Mavs are desperate to move up to 6th place to avoid the do-or-die Play-In Tournament between the 7th through 10th place teams.
With LeBron James not likely to return until the first week of May, the Lakers are facing a challenge heading into the playoffs similar to last year, when the league resumed play with 8 games before starting the playoffs. Despite only having a few games to get ready, the Lakers had no problem getting their conditioning and chemistry back and having both superstars fully healthy and rested proved to be a huge advantage in the playoffs.
There’s a good chance a rested and healthy LeBron James and Anthony Davis could give the Lakers a similar advantage in the playoffs this year, especially considering how tough the short offseason and crammed schedule have been. However, major changes in the Lakers’ roster, especially the addition of Andre Drummond, and a tougher path to the NBA Finals than last year combine to make the Lakers repeating as champions a bigger challenge.
Anthony Davis only played 8% of his minutes this regular season at center versus 40% last regular season and playoffs so one of the big unanswered questions is how many minutes will AD play the five in this year’s playoffs. Last playoffs, head coach Frank Vogel was forced to bench centers JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard as their inability to defend on the perimeter essentially made them unplayable against many of the Lakers’ opponents.
Frank Vogel will certainly face a minutes crunch at center in the playoffs this year as Drummond, Harrell, and Gasol all have serious defensive issues inside and outside that can only be rectified by Anthony Davis playing center more. Like last year, I think we’re going to see Vogel alternate starting Drummond and Gasol depending on the matchups and closing most games with Davis at the five. Odd man out in the minutes crunch may be Montrezl Harrell.
How well Drummond and Davis play together is going to be a critical key to whether the Lakers can repeat as champs. So far, opposing defenses have been able to focus on and force Andre to take bad shots or turn the ball over. With AD on the court, teams aren’t going to be able to easily double and contain Drummond. With AD and LeBron on the court, the Lakers hope Drummond can become the wild card to allow them to dominate teams.
Tomorrow night’s game will be the first test of whether the Lakers can reprise their brilliant closing run of last year and ride a fully healthy and rested LeBron James and Anthony Davis to win their 18th NBA championship.
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