Numbers don’t lie: Lakers’ LeBron James, Anthony Davis among top duos in NBA
LeBron James extends a hand toward Anthony Davis. Neither Lakers star flinches as they engage in their seconds-long handshake.
The intricate series of slaps and hand twists ends with each player snapping their fingers twice while their hands are still intertwined. The handshake is orchestrated just as perfectly as their union on the court has been this season for the Lakers (21-3), who are tied for the league’s best record.
“For me and AD we just, it starts with us,” James said Sunday night after the Lakers’ 142-125 win over Minnesota at Staples Center during which Davis scored 50 points and James had 32 with 13 assists.
“If we’re on the same page it makes it a lot easier for the rest of the ballclub and that’s both on and off the floor. So we’re just trying to lead by example, lead by command, lead by our voices, lead by our play and see where it takes us.”
It’s taken the Lakers to the top of the NBA, where they’re tied with the Milwaukee Bucks. The league leaders will clash Dec. 19 at the end of the Lakers’ upcoming five-game trip, which begins Wednesday at Orlando.
The Lakers are off to the franchise’s best start since 2008-09. That season ended with Kobe Bryant and Pau Gasol hoisting the NBA championship trophy. Of the high-powered duos in the league today, including those in Houston, Portland, Dallas, Milwaukee and L.A., James and Davis have quickly become one of the most effective entering the second quarter of the season.
They account for 45.7% of the Lakers’ points scored this season, the second-highest percentage for a duo entering Tuesday’s games behind only Houston’s James Harden and Russell Westbrook. Reunited in Houston, the former Oklahoma City Thunder teammates have scored 48.5% of the Rockets’ points this season.
Harden and Westbrook have also accounted for the highest percentage of their team’s assists in the league (64.8%) with James, the league’s individual assists leader, and Davis ranking third with 52.2% of their team’s assists. James and Davis are second among the top duos in percentage of team’s rebounds behind only Dallas’ oversized partnership of Luka Doncic and Kristaps Porzingis.
Among scoring, rebounding and assists percentages, James and Davis are the only duo of the six that rank in the top three in all three categories.
Injuries have prevented one of the other top pairings in the league from emerging. Paul George and Kawhi Leonard have played in only 14 and 18 games, respectively, for the Clippers.
James and Davis are the only pair of teammates currently averaging 25 or more points this season. Last season, Kevin Durant and Stephen Curry were the only duo to accomplish the feat as the Golden State Warriors’ attempt at winning three consecutive championships ended in an injury-plagued NBA Finals.
Lakers first-year guard Quinn Cook, who spent the previous three seasons with the Warriors, said he sees similarities with the dynastic Warriors and this year’s Lakers. The stars were “very low-maintenance, down-to-earth guys.”
That team was close. This one is the same way, following the lead of its two premier players.
“They’re like the most unselfish people ever,” Cook said of James and Davis. “They have a relationship with everybody. It’s infectious.”
Anthony Davis got to 50 points against the Timberwolves the old fashioned way, with post-ups, drives and jump shots without making a three-pointer, which has become a boring staple of today’s game.
Coach Frank Vogel acknowledged that he thought James and Davis have come together quicker than anticipated. Their games just fit, he said. They’re elite scorers. The other pieces around them — all-defensive players such as Avery Bradley and Danny Green and lob threats such as Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee — fall together like a puzzle around the two stars.
“They’re both guys that will make the right play, and they’re willing passers,” Vogel said of James and Davis. “So on paper the pieces fit. So far in this regular season we’re off to a good start, but it still is just to a good start.”
Bradley, one of the Lakers’ top defenders, had a workout with teammates when the team arrived in Orlando on Tuesday evening, clearing the way for him to play against the Magic on Wednesday night, according to people not authorized to speak publicly on the matter. Bradley will be on a playing restriction of 20 minutes.
He had been sidelined the last 13 consecutive games after being diagnosed with a hairline fracture in his lower right leg just over three weeks ago. Bradley was reevaluated by Lakers doctors Saturday and was then cleared for full-court practices.
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Update: The Lakers will test their 11-0 record away from Staples Center with a five-game trip that begins against the Magic (11-12). The trip, which also includes games at Miami, Atlanta and Indiana, will end with a clash between the current conference leaders as the Lakers face Milwaukee on Dec. 19. … The Lakers have set season highs in scoring in back-to-back games with 136 and 142 points against Portland and Minnesota, respectively. The total against the Timberwolves on Sunday was the most for a Lakers team in regulation since April 18, 1989, in a 142-118 win over Denver.
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