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Column: Anthony Davis schools Memphis, and one opponent had ‘fun’ with the lesson

Lakers forward Anthony Davis goes for a layup against the Grizzlies on Oct. 29, 2019, at Staples Center.
Lakers forward Anthony Davis goes for a layup against the Grizzlies on Tuesday night at Staples Center.
(Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

Anthony Davis should’ve broken the Memphis Grizzlies.

The third quarter Tuesday night was hell on the other team. Eighteen free throws by Davis, nine different fouls drawn, whistles on seven Memphis “defenders” — a word that’s here because nobody ever calls the guys trying to guard someone “foulers.”

“We’ve got to collectively find a way. It’s not one guy’s job to stop him. He had a heck of a night. All five guys on the floor got to find a way to get stops,” Memphis coach Taylor Jenkins said after the game Tuesday night at Staples Center. “It’s a great challenge for us. It’s not one guy. We had to throw a lot of different bodies at Davis and [LeBron] James. We just came up short tonight.”

Against Davis, Memphis was short … and skinny, too young and not strong enough.

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One of those guys the Grizzlies tried to throw in Davis’ direction, rookie Brandon Clarke, sent the Laker to the line twice in the quarter. He, like the rest of his Memphis teammates, had to endure almost six consecutive minutes without scoring in the third while Davis went to the line for seven different sets of free throws in a stretch of 14 Lakers possessions.

“It was fun,” Clarke said.

Fun? You sure?

Davis’ third quarter in the Lakers’ 120-91 blowout win was a lot of things. It was a historic 40-point, 20-rebound performance that put his name in the Lakers’ record books next to legendary players — Shaq, Wilt, Kareem, Elgin, Mikan. These men were the backbones of the Lakers’ championship history. And in his first week of work at his new job, AD’s there too.

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That should be fun for Davis. For Clarke? It should’ve been torture.

Maybe Anthony Davis shouldn’t have played against the Memphis Grizzlies in order to be sure the soreness didn’t become something that might keep him out awhile.

But Memphis, like the Lakers’ last opponent, the Charlotte Hornets, can’t judge themselves via box scores. It would be too depressing, two teams in the middle of rebuilding their rosters in the only viable way ahead of them — drafting and developing young players.

It’s why the contrasts have been so dramatic for the Lakers and their opponents in their final two home games before heading out on the road later this week. Remember Oct. 22 when the Clippers bullied them? That game meant a lot — two teams with championship aspirations, fighting for spots at the top of the West the second the season begins. Game 1 had real stakes.

The stakes for teams like the Grizzlies? They’re more long term. And that’s why Clarke can have “fun” on a night when Davis beats up on him like a varsity star scrimmaging against the freshman team.

“I haven’t played a game against a guy that’s like him before,” said Clarke, a high-energy big from Gonzaga. “Obviously, it’s kind of new to me — always fun to have a challenge like that. … But it’s still fun. It’s my first year, my first time playing against guys. But I can grow off of that. I can get better at guarding those bigger guys like him.”

Not everyone enjoyed this as much as Clarke, who got to see the Lakers’ best player this season run through him and his teammates during a third quarter in which Davis managed to score 20 points by making all 18 of his free throws while making only one shot from the field.

Jae Crowder seemingly disagreed with some of the whistles but he didn’t want to lose any money griping about it.

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“I ain’t even going to get into that because I don’t know what to say,” the eight-year veteran wisely admitted.

Grayson Allen, the Grizzlies’ second-year guard who got caught fouling Davis in the third, said the 18 free throws he shot in the quarter almost warped time for the players on the court, completely pulling them out of any flow they’d established.

“When you get free throws possession after possession after possession after possession in a row, it slows you down,” Allen said. “Their defense is going to be set. You’re going to have to walk the ball up most likely because they’re back.

“… As a player, you get this feeling like ‘Dang, I’m spending a lot of time on this end of the court. We’re not going down on offense much.’ Even though you are, even though you go back on offense after they shoot the free throws, it doesn’t feel like it because what’s our average possession, eight, 10 seconds? Maybe less? You go down for eight seconds and then you came back down and stand for a minute” for more free throws.

Jonas Valanciunas, a 27-year-old center who’s been banging with big men since he got to the league in 2013, didn’t need to learn any lessons. He’s already lived it.

As a 20-year-old rookie in a league where centers still threw their backsides against you possession after possession, Valanciunas had to learn how to compete with grown monsters like Nikola Pekovic, Roy Hibbert, Brook Lopez and Kendrick Perkins.

Tuesday, he even saw one of them come off the Lakers’ bench.

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“Dwight Howard — still pretty big,” he said.

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Davis’ lessons Tuesday were primarily intended for Clarke and second-year forward Jaren Jackson Jr. — two cornerstones of the Grizzlies’ future. Both fouled too much. Both felt Davis outwork them for rebounds, and jump above them at the rim.

Memphis hopes both will eventually be richer players because of it, like deposits entering their bank of basketball knowledge.

“Every time they touch the floor to guard guys like AD, they’re building their experience. They’re building their smartness, learning how to guard guys like that without fouling,” Valanciunas said. “It’s good. This is good for young guys ... to get out there and be in the mix and be guarding good players.”

Tuesday was a milestone for Davis, a statement game for him when he overcame a sore shoulder to get the Lakers’ their third win in a row and cement his place as the team’s go-to guy now.

Down the Staples Center hallway, it was one lesson in a season that will be full of them, a search for silver linings and teachable moments in the wreckage of an awful second half Tuesday night.

And no matter what they say, that can’t be as much fun.


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