A voice from the crowd cried out as if in pain, then another, then another.
“Get up!” the frightened fans pleaded, again and again. “Get up, A.D! Get up, A.D!”
He remained on his stomach underneath the basket in front of the Lakers bench. His left hand clutched his lower back. His right fist pounded the floor six times.
“A.D! A.D!” fans chanted, as if their words could raise him. “A.D! A.D!”
His teammates surrounded him with sweaty faces slowly going blank. His coach came out, looked down, then looked away. The official scorers’ table horn sounded, then sounded again. It was as if every inch of the giant Staples Center was trying to coax Davis to his feet.
He stayed down for what seemed like an hour. It was probably no more than five minutes. Time stopped and the crowd grew silent as the entire Lakers season sprawled on the floor beneath him.
Finally, Davis stood. A couple of team employees clutched each arm. He took baby steps off the court. He was followed by a stretcher as he slowly stepped toward the locker room.
He stopped in the middle of the tunnel hallway as if he could walk no more. He grimaced. He kept walking. The stretcher kept following.
He later left the building on a golf cart before gingerly climbing into the back seat of his car. One of the two driving forces in the Lakers’ splendid start was unable to drive himself home.
“Hope for the best,” said coach Frank Vogel. “Pray for the best.”
You’ve spent three months enjoying the Lakers’ blessings, now welcome to their curse. A team built strongly on the backs of two of the best players in the world imperceptibly teeters with their fragility. LeBron James is aging, Davis is injury prone, and the Lakers are always one shoe squeak from all hell breaking loose.
One groin pull, and the season is torn apart. One lingering bone issue, and their dream could be cracked. One bad fall, and everyone falls.
This truth accounted for the fear that filled this corner of Figueroa Street with 2:45 left in the third quarter Tuesday night in a 117-87 victory against the New York Knicks. While attempting a two-handed block of a layup by Julius Randle, Davis landed hard on his back, suffering what has been initially diagnosed as a bruised buttocks.
He will travel with the team on the upcoming road trip to Dallas and Oklahoma City. Davis will be listed as questionable for Friday’s game against the Mavericks.
What everyone saw looked much worse.
“Ugly fall, man,” said Danny Green. “It’s probably going to take some time, showing how long it took for him to get up and walk out of here, the way he’s walking out of here.”
Dwight Howard, who has a history of back problems, felt Davis’ agony.
“It hurts, it hurts, it hurts,” he said. “It’s very painful. I wouldn’t wish that on nobody.”
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope could only ponder what happens now.
“Falling on your tailbone is a lot,” he said. “I hope he gets better soon because we’re going to need him. He’s a really big piece.”
He’s more than a really big piece. He’s half the team. James is the other half. They fit together perfectly. They complement each other marvelously. They encompass the Lakers’ hopes completely.
Without Davis, this team is James and a bunch of role players. Without Davis, this team could look a lot like last year’s team.
“He’s one of our pillars,” said Vogel. “He’s our present. He’s our past.”
The Lakers are 29-6 with him, and 1-1 without him. They are a top-five defensive team with him, and apply unsettled and inconsistent pressure without him. They are a top-five scoring team with him, and James is overburdened without him.
And oh yeah, if he misses any games, the Lakers will be officially without 27 points, nine rebounds and three blocked shots a game.
Howard and JaVale McGee would have to fill the middle. Kyle Kuzma would likely go, at least temporarily, from the trading block into the starting lineup. Roles would change. James would be reminded what it was like to feel very much alone.
The Lakers quietly worried about this sort of freak injury when they traded for Davis. He has been dinged up so much, he didn’t play more than 75 games in any of his previous seven NBA seasons. Only twice has he played more than 68 games. Yet, this year it had seemed different. He has impressed teammates with his ability to play through pain, missing only two games despite suffering injuries to his right ankle, right knee and right shoulder.
“This is my first experience with him, and he plays through just about everything,” said Vogel. “That’s my only impression of him. He’s as tough as they come.”
His teammates agree.
“Just seeing him fighting through pain means a lot,” said Caldwell-Pope.
It was all a reminder of what a future without Davis would be like. The Lakers can still make the playoffs even if Davis were at some point miss a bunch of time, but there’s no way they can set themselves up for a championship. They might not be able to make the deal for the playmaker and shooter that is necessary to complete this team. And they might risk losing home court advantage to either Denver or Houston.
James, who kicked into that gear by climbing out of a sick bed and scoring 31 points with six three pointers against the Knicks, sighed.
“Who said it would be easy?” James said.
Tuesday night was the sobering glimpse as to how things can get a lot harder.