MINNEAPOLIS — As Anthony Davis made his way into the tunnel just behind the visitor’s basket in the dying seconds of the Lakers’ 123-111 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday, the group of Laker fans invading the goal center crowd rose. harmony.
Roughly an hour earlier, at 6:35 in the third quarter, those same fans watched the fate of the Lakers season flash before their eyes. They saw Davis go up for a defensive fumble, land awkwardly near a teammate’s foot and collapse to the floor, writhing in pain while grabbing his left ankle.
The timing couldn’t be worse. The Lakers, finally healthy and for the first time all season, were drawn into a pivotal game against the Timberwolves, with the winner, at least, taking center stage in the No. 7 seed race in the West. At the time, they faced an eight-point deficit and the prospect of losing their anchor for the rest of the game, if not for longer.
So Davis, who did his best to fight the injury prone tag given him over the years, refused to walk out of the game.
He got up on his own, and then immediately collapsed. He used several teammates and coaches to help him rise, as he was benched during the ensuing Lakers timeout. As his team regrouped, he mustered his strength to shake off the annoyance. He bounced on his ankle, and tested it. Then, as he was about to resume play, he walked over to the scorer’s table and pulled the laces on his pink Nike LeBron 20 sneakers.
He will not miss a possession.
Despite plodding gingerly up and down, unable to run without limping, Davis blew 17 points in the fourth quarter, including 12 in a row over four minutes halfway through the frame. With co-star LeBron James loudly cheering him on from the sidelines to continue dominating, Davis beat the Timberwolves into the paint and the mid-post area with one foot. When his work was done and a much-needed Lakers victory was secured, Davis leapt into the locker room as hundreds, if not thousands of visiting Lakers fans cheered and clapped in amazement at his daring 38-point, 17-rebound performance.
“I knew I was going to play regardless,” said Davis. “Just this initial adjustment, a little bit of pain and throbbing etc. Just let it kind of subside. But I didn’t want to stay too long and then throb any more. Lace up really tight and play the adrenaline until the end of the game and manage to get some therapy in. But I’ll be fine.” “
With the win, fifth in six games and 14th in 21 since, a series of moves by the deadline remade the roster, the Lakers improved to 39-38, passing . 500 for the first time this season. They vaulted Minnesota (39-39) into seventh place in the West — their highest in the standings — and now trail the Golden State Warriors (41-37) by 1 1/2 games into the automatic final. , with a head-to-head tiebreaker in hand. (The Lakers hold the same record as the Pelicans in the eighth, but they also own this head-to-head tiebreaker.)
“(Davis) changed the game for us,” said Jared Vanderbilt, who played a crucial role in getting Timberwolves star Anthony Edwards to 11 points on 4-16 shooting. “That’s just a testament to who he is. He could have easily walked out of the game and lost, but he wanted to stay in the game because he knew how big this game was for us and would yell at him just to stick it out and fight through injuries and adversity. A big stretch.”
Lakers coach Darvin Hamm called Davis’ determination to play through his pain “a huge step forward for our ball club”, considering the stakes of the game and Davis’ injury history.
“You have to have that one pivotal force leading the attack, and in our case, with this particular team here at the moment, it’s AD,” Hamm said. “When he comes out aggressive and we feed him and he doesn’t settle and he presses on the coating, he presses on the edge, we find ourselves having a lot of success. … When he goes and cooks, everybody eats.”
Davis shot 15-for-26 from the floor and 8-for-10 from the free throw line, adding a steal and two blocks in 37 minutes. His play through injury sparked a 24-2 Lakers rally in the third quarter, which turned the game on its head. Then, once Minnesota’s Rudy Gobert left the game with an apparent knee injury midway through the fourth period, Davis took advantage of the limitations of the Karl-Anthony Towns defense to score five straight field goals and score 12 consecutive points.
“He kicked our team every way he could,” Timberwolves coach Chris Finch told reporters. “On the glass, in the post, in the middle of the post, at the nail. He’s playing at a really high level right now. It’s obviously really hard to contain him.”
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Davis headed to the locker room once the match was safe to get a remedy for what Hamm initially referred to as a “sprained ankle”. But Davis made it clear: He plays the Rockets Sunday in Houston.
“Davis said. “Yes.”
James, playing in his third game in a month-long absence due to a torn tendon in his right foot, has continued to look more and more like his old self. He scored 18 points, 10 rebounds and six assists in 32 minutes, one minute more than he played in Chicago on Wednesday. He said he will play Sunday in Houston as well. (Note: the Los Angeles to Houston flight was canceled due to a snow storm in Minneapolis, so they’ll be flying into Houston on Saturday afternoon instead.)
“James said. “My rhythm still isn’t there yet like it was before the injury, but I’ve been out for four weeks. I understand that. So, I think every game, every minute, as the wind starts to come back as well, I can play a little bit longer in bursts. But I I was glad to be able to get two pieces—one in transition, one in a half-tight set—and to see my feet kind of interact with it and the rest of the body, too.”
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The Lakers have been playing do-or-die games for more than a month, but Friday’s slant was more like a playoff given the increased stakes in the crowded Western Conference. The raucous Timberwolves crowd, perhaps the loudest the Lakers have faced this season, was loudly ringing “Beat LA!” Hymns before the edge. It was a hostile environment, and the Lakers thrived in it.
In their most important game of the season so far, Hamm reduced the rotation, with only eight players scoring over 10 minutes. Contributions extend beyond Davis, James, and Vanderbilt. D’Angelo Russell (12 points, 10 assists) started Los Angeles’ dynamic transitional offense against his former team. Austin Reeves (15 points) continued his offensive shredding. Rui Hachimura and Dennis Schroeder provided a solid boost off the bench with their energy, and Hachimura’s defense after Hachimura against Towns was a subtle key to the second half turnaround. Wenin Gabriel held great against Townes and Joubert off the bench. Even Malik Beasley, the ninth man in this game, broke out of his shooting slump in a familiar place with nine points on 3-of-4 of 3.
The five-game return trip, as Davis considered it in Chicago, got off to an encouraging 2-0 start. The Lakers got revenge in Chicago and Minnesota, with Davis scoring 38 points in both victories. Next up: the mediocre Houston Rockets, who left a sour taste in the Lakers’ mouth two weeks ago when they beat Los Angeles with Davis resting for the second night of a back-to-back game.
At a minimum, the Lakers are now favored to secure the No. 7 seed in the West, which means they’ll have home court advantage in the Play-In Tournament and can advance to the playoffs with one win. But they were still not satisfied, especially with their goal of a sixth-place finish and an exit from the championship looking increasingly possible.
“Just know we can’t be fat and happy,” Hamm said. “There’s more to conquer. And that starts in Houston on Sunday night.”
(Top photo: Jordan Johnson/NBAE via Getty Images)