For a while, Anthony Davis sat in front of his corner locker, leaning against a wall with a towel draped over his shoulders. He wore the familiar weary expression of a person who came to work despite a nasty cold.
He’d just finished a game in which he’d played a significant role in shutting down one of the NBA’s most dominant big men in Denver center Nikola Jokic, helping the Lakers to a 105-96 win over the Nuggets. Despite receiving an IV at halftime to curb his flu-like symptoms, Davis was spent.
Eventually Davis got up, showered and got dressed, and as he prepared to leave the locker room with his fellow superstar teammate, Davis was met with the kind of sympathy one would expect between two men who have taken to calling each other family.
“Hey sick man!” LeBron James hollered across the locker room. “You all right? Ready? You waiting for me?”
In return, Davis made his way across the locker room with his arms outstretched as James shouted “Don’t you dare try to hug me right now!”
Even being sick is more fun coming off a win.
The Lakers made a vow to themselves this year that they will not lose two games in a row, and Tuesday night they kept it despite a locker room dotted with sick players. With a win over the Nuggets, they improved to 18-3, bouncing back from a loss to the Dallas Mavericks on Sunday.
“He’s been doing it all year,” James said of Davis. “Playing through injuries, playing through illness like he did tonight. Defensive player of the year and he showed tonight once again playing one on one versus Joker in the post. When there were switches going on with Jamal Murray, playing one on one versus a small. Got stop after stop after stop. Just a monster game for him.”
James and Davis both scored 25 points. Rajon Rondo and Dwight Howard also scored in double figures. The Nuggets were led by Murray, who scored 22 points, and Paul Millsap with 21. Jokic finished with 13 points after being held to three in the first half.
Denver entered the night with the second-best record in the Western Conference, tied for the best defensive rating in the NBA, and still the Lakers scored 60 first-half points and did enough the rest of the game to secure the win.
The Lakers dominated the first half, leading 60-49, grabbing twice as many rebounds as the Nug-gets and besting them in fastbreak points, second-chance points and points off the bench.
“Walkthrough this morning with the film, there was about 45 clips of us not boxing out,” Rondo said. “So I think we got the point. We knew this team was, if not the best, I think they were the third-best offensive rebounding team in the league, so we knew coming in that we had to clean up the glass.”
But just like the Mavericks did Sunday afternoon, the Nuggets came out of halftime on a mission. They outscored the Lakers 23-11 to start the third quarter.
“The No. 1 lesson we learned from the Dallas game is you can’t let a couple of bad calls impact your focus,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “And our guys tonight played through it with poise and composure and calm mental adjustments, rather than playing with anger and frustration.”
A three-pointer by Millsap gave the Nuggets a 72-71 lead, but the Lakers responded with a 7-0 run. Davis hit a three-pointer and James contributed two driving layups.
Denver made a late push that energized the fans.
The crowd rose as James brought the ball up the court with the Lakers leading 97-96. He spotted Davis wrestling with Jokic, who was ultimately called for a foul. Davis made one of two free throws.
At the other end, the Lakers found a way to get the stops they needed.
As he came off the court during a timeout in the fourth quarter, Davis was crowing about his expectation that he would be first-team all-defense this year. His teammates respectfully disagreed.
“I got him as MVP and defensive player of the year,” Rondo said. “So, if he only gets one, I’ll be [angry]. My expectations are really high for him, so we have to continue to win as a team and hopefully the rest of the world will understand and see that he’s a really big part of why we are who we are.”