June 19, 2024

Always happy to share the credit in good times, Anthony Davis insisted on keeping the blame to himself when the Lakers lost at Utah on Saturday.

Everyone but him did their part to step up in the absence of LeBron James, he said that night, putting the Lakers in an even tougher position than they were already facing as they battled to crack the top 10 in the West and at least get in position for a play-in berth. “We got to make a push,” he said, pointing out that their performance over the next few games at home would be crucial in determining the direction of their season.

Davis didn’t have to accept the burden after that loss. He’s having a terrific season at both ends of the floor and has consistently been the Lakers’ most effective player, steady while they sorted through lineup changes and constant injuries and endured crises of confidence and lapses on defense.

“He wants to be there for us in the most competitive way and just pull us on his back and carry us a lot. And when he’s feeling like he’s not doing that, he’s really hard on himself,” coach Darvin Ham said. “But that’s why he is who he is, though.”

Davis’ willingness to take responsibility for that defeat was admirable. So was his response Monday against Oklahoma City in the first of six straight games for the Lakers at Crypto.com Arena (including one as the “road” team against the Clippers).

Davis scored a game-high 27 points, grabbed a game-high 15 rebounds and added five assists and a block to emphatically launch that push the Lakers urgently need. Their 112-105 victory over the Thunder was in some ways a template for what they’ll have to do going forward: playing with a starting lineup of Taurean Prince, James, Davis, Austin Reaves and D’Angelo Russell, they had four starters in double figures, shot 52.4% from the floor, and turned a six-point deficit early in the third quarter into an eight-point lead by the end of the period.

Ham said that five will be their starting lineup for the foreseeable future. Their performance on Monday supported his plan and gave reason to believe the Lakers do have better performances in them, as long as James (25 points, seven rebounds, six assists) and Davis stay healthy and support players like Max Christie and Jarred Vanderbilt fill their roles.

“I think it starts with us defensively to make that push,” Davis said after his eighth game this season with at least 25 points and at least 15 rebounds. “We’ve got be a team that’s defensive-minded, and when we are defensive-minded and show what we can do defensively on the floor, we tend to win those games.

“I think we can score,” he added. “I think for us it’s just on the defensive end. Are we able to play defense how we did tonight? We put ourselves in position to win a lot of basketball games…. I think the defense is what’s going to separate us and get us more wins.”

The Lakers hit the halfway point of the season still having lost more games than they’ve won, at 20-21. That’s not where they should be.

But they remain convinced they have the resources and personnel to make the kind of second-half surge that Davis talked about the other day. And there’s always the trade market, a route effectively used last season by general manager Rob Pelinka to transform a flailing team into a powerhouse that reached the West finals.

“I like what we’re doing. I like what we did tonight,” Davis said. “We’ve got to continue on the path.”

Davis must lead them with his two-way game and the kind of selflessness that led him to needlessly take the blame for that Utah loss.

“His care factor is through the roof. AD cares about nothing except winning. He wants to win,” Ham said. “His skill set is elite and it generates a lot of numbers and a lot of different stat lines but for the most part, the main thing that matters the most to him is the win, and getting the win. He’s really hard on himself and beats himself up sometimes. Trying to get him to snap out of it a little bit….

“Ultimately, just him giving contributions night in and night out, if he continues to go at this rate, we’ll be just fine. Both he and Bron have been great this season, just being available and available at the highest level.”

The rest of their season starts Wednesday, against Dallas. That leaves the Lakers little to look behind them. But they have plenty of time to think about how to find the necessary balance and chemistry to make the second half the better half of their season.

“It’s tough because we haven’t been completely healthy when we’ve been in games a lot this year. But we’ve been having a lot of injuries,” Davis said. “It’s always tough. The times we were healthy, completely healthy, we played great basketball, so we know what we can be. We’ve just got to get fully healthy.”

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