Lakers’ playoff push without James is a true test for Davis

It continues to be a rollercoaster season for the Los Angeles Lakers, with the team learning that superstar LeBron James could miss a considerable amount of time with a foot injury.

Shams Charania of The Athletic reported the news of James’ injury on Monday, which sent shockwaves throughout the Lakers fanbase and set the Twitterverse ablaze with speculation about the team’s playoff chances.

Although the incredible 27-point comeback against the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday was a massive step in the right direction, the Lakers have taken a step back with James on the mend again. Los Angeles can’t seem to shake the injury bug, with either Anthony Davis, James or other key players going down multiple times during the 2022-23 campaign.

Fortunately, unlike the past few seasons, the Lakers may finally have the depth to hold them over until James returns. No, the team doesn’t have another superstar to shoulder the load, but collectively, this new-look squad might be able to get it done if a few things go their way.

Anthony Davis, Lakers
Feb 26, 2023; Dallas, Texas, USA; Los Angeles Lakers forward Anthony Davis (3) reacts in front of Dallas Mavericks guard Kyrie Irving (2) after scoring during the fourth quarter at American Airlines Center. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

Anthony Davis MUST Step Up

There has never been a more opportune time for Davis to step up and show he’s still one of the best players in the NBA.

Outside of the team’s championship season in the bubble, Davis has been plagued with injuries during his entire stint with the Lakers. As a result, the team hasn’t been able to depend on him, which has proven costly to their title hopes since that magical run in Orlando, Florida.

However, Davis is now healthy and playing at an All-Star level again. Ever since returning to the floor following a 20-game absence due to injury, Davis is averaging 22.3 points, 13.0 rebounds, and 1.8 blocks per game while shooting 50 percent from the floor.

These are not stellar numbers for a player of Davis’ caliber, especially in the point total category, but solid nonetheless.

Davis will need to pump up the point production with James on the shelf, and there’s no doubt that when healthy, he’s more than capable of doing so.

If Davis can live up to the challenge, he’ll leave an impression on Lakers fans and the front office. This could be Davis’ finest hour outside his brilliant performance in the bubble a few years ago.

D'Angelo Russell, Lakers
Feb 15, 2023; Los Angeles, California, USA; Los Angeles Lakers guard D’Angelo Russell (1) reacts after scoring a three point basket against the New Orleans Pelicans during the second half at Arena. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

D’Angelo Russell’s Time to Shine

The Lakers decided to roll the dice on D’Angelo Russell for a second time, and so far, everyone likes what they see from the 27-year-old guard.

Unfortunately, Russell is currently dealing with an ankle injury, which kept him sidelined for the win over the Mavericks. He is currently listed as doubtful for Tuesday’s game against the Memphis Grizzlies, but the injury isn’t expected to keep him in street clothes for long.

With James out, Russell must help shoulder the scoring load and be the primary distributor. Both of these things he can do and do well, as he’s already shown some chemistry with Davis and his new Lakers teammates.

The pressure will be on Davis to lead the way for the LeBron-less Lakers, but Russell will have to play at a high level to somewhat fill the shoes of James in the passing department.

Like Davis, Russell can continue to prove his worth and win over Lakers fans. This a golden opportunity for both players before heading into an uncertain future this summer.

Defensive Intensity

Jarred Vanderbilt.

No player on the new-look squad since the NBA trade deadline has impacted this team more than Vanderbilt, who has already won over the fanbase and frustrated opposing coaches like Jason Kidd.

Vanderbilt’s defense on Luka Doncic was top-notch and prompted this response from Kidd in the postgame presser. He has consistently been a beast on both ends of the floor, doing all the dirty work since being traded to the team.

Darvin Ham and James are big fans of Vanderbilt, and no one can blame them, especially after his performance against the Mavericks.

Although the Lakers haven’t been a defensive juggernaut this season, the team has proven formidable on that side of the ball since making the recent additions to the squad.

If Davis can play at the elite level defensively he’s capable of, and Vanderbilt can continue to hold it down the way he has, the Lakers may still be able to make some noise in this final stretch of the season. There’s no doubt losing LeBron for however long he’s out, and it could be for the rest of the season, will hurt this team in many ways, but the opportunity to make a playoff push without him is still alive.

Every player on the squad has something to play for in this last stretch, along with making a playoff push. The future is uncertain for most of the squad, so it’ll make for an interesting final 21 games, with some motivated players looking to leave their mark.

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