NBA: Anthony Davis’s painful short-term injury hints at the Lakers’ vulnerability come playoff time

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The 30-7 Lakers might own the top spot in the West, but this distinction involved Anthony Davis (injured on the floor Tuesday) and LeBron James missing only three of 74 combined games.

For those who’ve logged countless hours playing basketball on a hardwood, blacktop or rubber-like surface, we’ve all been there.

Falling on your butt, typically after a vertical scrum around the basket or inside the paint, stands as a rite of passage for most ballers … even if it’s a very-painful and perhaps embarrassing occurrence.

Walking away gingerly from a nasty spill often comes with the deal; but here’s the good news: The gluteus maximus is the largest, heaviest and perhaps most resilient muscle in the human body (according to Physiopedia.com).

It’s also “the most superficial of all gluteal muscles that are located at the posterior aspect of the hip joint.”

In most cases, that’s doctorspeak for you’ll be fine after a few days of rest and lying on something soft.

The same generic diagnosis apparently holds true with Los Angeles Lakers power forward Anthony Davis, as he recovers from an awkward fall against the Knicks on Tuesday night.

Sure, the Western Conference-leading Lakers (30-7 overall) didn’t really need Davis in full to handle the bottom-feeding Knicks (10-27), cruising to a 30-point victory at Staples Center.

But make no mistake: Davis’s gluteus-maximus contusion injury — which reportedly produced a clean MRI exam on Wednesday — does portend vulnerability for the Lakers down the road, if Davis and LeBron James are not operating at peak form when the games seriously matter.

NO TIME FOR LOAD MANAGEMENT

Fortunately for the Lakers, no one’s putting much stock into a minimal court absence during January, especially with Davis reportedly making the two-city trip to Dallas and Oklahoma City.

However, let’s look at things from another angle: If the Lakers were planning to give LeBron (36 of 37 games played, as of Dec. 7) an extended break in the next 3-4 weeks, that plan might be shelved to accommodate Davis’s recovery/absence.

And when Davis (35 games played) returns to full health, will Los Angeles have enough cushion in the standings to place LeBron on a Load Management break, in the hopes that Davis can handle the starring duties of a Lakers team that’s more rooted in complementary assets than roster-wide star power?

(NOTE: Only three Lakers are averaging double-figure points through 37 games — James, Davis and Kyle Kuzma, who has already missed nine outings this season.)

When the LeBron/Davis union became official during the spring/summer, many NBA pundits assumed the load-management-conscious Lakers would do just enough to claim a top-4 seed for the Western Conference playoffs, thus guaranteeing home-court advantage for at least one round.

However, that was before Los Angeles claimed the top spot in the West standings (by a comfortable margin) … but only sporting a 1-3 cumulative record against the conference’s three best clubs (Clippers, Nuggets, Rockets).

Looking ahead, the Lakers have:

**Three remaining games with Houston
**Two outings with the Nuggets and Clippers apiece
**Two extended road trips in January (Houston, Boston, New York, Brooklyn, Philly) and March (Charlotte, Detroit, Toronto, Cleveland, Washington, Minnesota)

DANCIN’ WITH WHO BROUGHT YA

Does the above slate, which also includes a heavyweight rematch with the Bucks and multiple encounters with the physical Jazz (24-12 overall), suggest the Lakers will drop out of top-4 contention by season’s end?

Probably not … but it’s hardly the greatest confidence boost, either.

Bottom line: Unless the Lakers are content with a 45-game finishing kick of .500 or slightly above, chances are LeBron (seasonal averages: 25.1 points, 10.8 assists, 7.8 rebounds) and Davis (27.1 points, 9.4 rebounds, 1.5 blocks per game) will keep logging heavy minutes through mid-April.

And if that’s the case, Los Angeles might have the fewest turns of substantial rest among its star contingent, compared to other clubs, which could be a bad thing come playoff time.

For as we already know, the Lakers have virtually no assets to pull off a major deal before the NBA’s trade deadline in mid-February, thanks to the summertime blockbuster involving Davis.

Short of signing a street free agent, or getting lucky with a buyout playmaker (like Andre Iguodala in Memphis), the L.A. front office has no choice but to accept this harsh reality:

They don’t possess the authority to trade any first-round pick through 2025 … unless first clearing it with the New Orleans Pelicans, Davis’s former employer.

About The Managing Editor

Jay Clemons remains the only sports writer on the planet to capture Cynposis Media’s national award for Sports Blog Of The Year (beating out NBA.com, MLB.com, PGATour.com, The Players’ Tribune in 2015), along with the Fantasy Sports Writers Association’s pre-eminent award for Best Writer (2008). Through the years, Mr. Clemons has been a key figure with numerous blue-chip sports/media brands, namely the Detroit Lions, Sports Illustrated, FOX Sports, Bleacher Report and the NBC/Universal family. With Sports Illustrated (2006-11), Clemons served a triple role with SI.com‘s heralded football coverage—editing Peter King’s famed ‘Monday Morning Quarterback’ column, penning award-winning pieces for NFL and then writing/narrating scripted videos within the NFL and baseball realms. In 2013, Clemons’ first year with the company, FOX Sports South enjoyed a monumental increase of approximately 34 million Web hits in a 12-month cycle—merely posting 11 million hits the previous year. 

Then, over a two-month span in 2014, FOX Sports South amassed 19.5 million Web hits—a 60-day record for any FOX affiliate. And in 2015, Clemons claimed the aforementioned Cynopsis Media award on FOX Sports’ behalf, the company’s only national writing award during that period. Clemons, a graduate of Michigan State University  and Wayne State University, has been an on-camera Web-TV host for Sports Illustrated, Bleacher Report and FOX Sports. In 2015, he also became the first-ever sports journalism professor at Kennesaw State University in suburban Atlanta.

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