Lakers’ Anthony Davis expects to play in Game 6

The Sporting Tribune's Mark Medina writes Anthony Davis expects to play in Game 6 against the Warriors after suffering head injury.

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — It appears the Los Angeles Lakers avoided a nightmare scenario involving their dominant star missing a key playoff game because of a serious injury.

Less than a day after Anthony Davis exited the final 7:34 of the Lakers’ Game 5 loss to the Golden State Warriors after forward Kevon Looney inadvertently elbowed him, Lakers coach Darvin Ham said the medical staff has listed Davis as “probable” for Game 6 on Friday at Staples Center.

“He’s feeling great,” Ham said Thursday afternoon on a conference call with reporters. “Our medical staff gave us a great update. He’s not in the protocol. He’s not showing any signs of anything.”

Ham also confirmed that the Lakers’ medical staff specifically diagnosed Davis on whether he suffered a concussion.

“We wouldn’t go out and make statements without that being the case,” Ham said. “We follow protocols, not just with AD, but any of our players and any of our employees.”

Obviously, that news should bring needed relief to the Lakers as they hope to eliminate Golden State in Game 6 and advance to the Western Conference Finals. So should Ham’s revelation that Lakers star LeBron James feels “fine” after favoring his left foot late in the third quarter in Game 5 and that Lakers guard Dennis Schroder is “doing great” with managing soreness in his right Achilles tendon. But most of the attention rightfully should be on Davis, whom Ham called “the centerpiece for what we’re trying to do on both sides of the ball.”

That doesn’t mean the Lakers should exhale just yet. Not only can the Warriors overcome a 3-2 series deficit because of their championship equity that includes two elite shooters (Stephen Curry, Klay Thompson), an elite defender (Draymond Green) and an elite coach (Steve Kerr). The Lakers’ encouraging news on Davis can change just as quickly as a dreaded Warriors run.

It shouldn’t have surprised anyone that Davis could walk out of the arena without any assistance following Game 5 after reportedly needing to be wheelchaired to the locker room area. It also should not surprise anyone if Davis suddenly feels worse leading into Game 6. That’s because it may take time for concussion-related symptoms to emerge.

That explains why the NBA’s concussion protocols requires a team’s medical staff to evaluate a player for a concussion 24 hours after the initial diagnosis. Though NBA players don’t face the same level of physicality as NFL players do, the league adopted such protocols in 2011 amid increasing awareness on how sensitive and unpredictable concussions can affect an athlete.

Consider that the late Kobe Bryant played through the 2012 NBA All-Star game after Dwyane Wade inadvertently elbowed him in the nose. No doubt, that incident highlighted one of many examples of Bryant’s toughness and ability to play through injuries. But Bryant also didn’t feel any symptoms until the following day.

Because this happened during the All-Star break, Bryant managed to return within three days without missing any games. But it required Bryant to sit in a dark room for an extended period of time to avoid exposure to sunlight. He also had to pass various exercises without any symptoms, including stationary bike, light jogging, running, jumping as well as team noncontact and full-contact drills.

The NBA doesn’t offer a full timeline on when players can return to clear concussion protocols. They only do so if they complete those exercises without showing symptoms. But the process typically takes seven to 10 days, which means the Lakers would’ve likely had to win Game 6 and potentially a Game 7 against Golden State without Davis had he suffered a concussion.

That’s what makes the reaction from ESPN’s Stephen A. Smith and TNT’s Shaquille O’Neal and Charles Barkley so disappointing. It’s a bad enough look when analysts or fans on Twitter pretend to be a doctor in normal circumstances. In Davis’ case, he has elicited plenty of ridicule for both his extensive injury history and leaving games temporarily over injury scares that turn out to be nothing. But in this case, Davis appeared very vulnerable with possibly suffering a concussion based on how Looney accidently struck him and how Davis appeared in pain afterwards.

“My only reaction was just to make sure that he was safe and he was well and he was okay,” Ham said about the criticism Davis received. “Now that I was given the information, we move on and try to figure out how we can get a win here at home tomorrow night. All of that other stuff is meaningless.”

Fair point that Ham made. The Lakers care about winning their 18th NBA title than worrying about what’s said on cable networks and social media about one of their star players. But the Lakers do care about Davis’ well being. And though the Lakers and their fanbase can feel relief that it appears Davis avoided a nightmare scenario, both parties should keep in mind his progress will remain fluid for better or for worse.

Mark Medina covers the NBA for The Sporting Tribune. Follow him on Twitter and on Instagram.