Anthony Davis’ injury will give other Lakers minutes that could help in long run
The chill that went down Frank Vogel’s back before Tuesday’s game against the Timberwolves had nothing to do with Anthony Davis being sidelined and everything to do with the Lakers coach sitting so close to the loading dock on a frigid Minneapolis night.
Any worries about Davis had been mostly erased with the worst-case scenario, a ruptured Achilles tendon, being ruled out, leaving Vogel and the Lakers not with a problem but with an opportunity.
Barring some miraculous recovery, for at least the next three weeks, the Lakers will have to figure things out minus Davis, a chore that could pay long-term dividends beyond a healthier and rested forward returning to the lineup for the second half of the season.
“Well, it’s more opportunities for everyone else,” Vogel said before the game. “We’ve seen it a lot of times where the opposing team had key guys out, then other guys got opportunities, whether it’s more shots, more minutes, more responsibility. They embrace that and they step up.
“That’s got to be our mind-set with this group. Our whole team has to step up.”
LeBron James neared finished with a triple-double and got plenty of help as the Lakers beat the Minnesota Timberwolves 112-104 on Tuesday in Minneapolis.
Kuzma has been terrific this season, his understanding and acceptance of a complementary role coming on the heels of a contract extension. He’s been an active rebounder, a good catch-and-shoot three-point shooter and, for the most part, a largely restrained offensive player who has continued to improve on the other side of the ball.
While it might seem simple — the Lakers need more offense with Davis out and Kuzma is certainly willing — it’s more important to the team’s big-picture goals that Kuzma continues to hone the skills that have made him so valuable to date.
“My approach is the same,” Kuzma said Sunday after Davis got hurt. “I’m trying to go get every rebound. I’m trying to defend at a high level and then just get easy baskets. That’s my mentality. I’m not changing nothing.”
The early returns saw that those weren’t just words.
His first bucket against Minnesota came after he swooped in off the wing to tap an offensive rebound loose, getting behind the three-point line, setting his feet and hitting an open jumper.
But it won’t be one guy, even if Kuzma was not able to replicate Davis’ impact on the Lakers — and he cannot.
They’ll have to make minor adjustments on offense, asking for point guard Dennis Schroder to be more aggressive as a scorer and for Marc Gasol to be more consistently involved as a playmaker. There’s certainly room for Montrezl Harrell to do more — he’s taking four fewer shots per game than he did last year — and for Markieff Morris to re-enter Vogel’s rotation.
Maybe the most interesting thing to come out of Davis’ injury could be more minutes, more shots and more responsibility for Talen Horton-Tucker, the kinds of experiences that could accelerate his rapid development even more.
“There’s always that sort of thing when you lose a key guy that other guys get more opportunities and Talen certainly falls in that bucket,” Vogel said. “But we have a lot of guys that can benefit from more minutes and more responsibilities. So it’s going to be a team approach.”
The one option that the Lakers undoubtedly can use is the one they can least afford to rely on.
Instead of Davis banging in the post against Minnesota star Karl-Anthony Towns, it was LeBron James physically dealing with someone bigger, the Lakers star switching onto Towns multiple times only to guard him one-on-one.
Vogel said he expected James’ usage to go up — the kind of thing that’s probably fine when it’s a one- or two-game thing, but with Davis down for an extended stretch, the Lakers need to be cautious with their other superstar.
While Vogel was relieved to get “good news” on Davis — any news that didn’t include the words “ruptured Achilles” would qualify — he was forced to wonder if the Lakers’ tight offseason was partly to blame.
An MRI exam Monday revealed Lakers star Anthony Davis sustained a calf strain and aggravated his Achilles tendonosis during Sunday’s loss.
“Certainly that’s in the back of our minds with the short turnaround,” Vogel said. “These are the things that you worry about.”
The Lakers have always asked a lot of James, as they should. But the line between “a lot” and “too much” can quickly blur with the team missing one of its stars.
As Davis limped off the court in Denver, James watched his co-star struggle, probably knowing that things were going to get tougher for his team starting now. But that’s not what he was thinking about.
“Just overall safety and health of him — that’s my only concern watching him shuffle off the floor,” James said.
And while they’re short-handed, the Lakers have to have the same approach for the one superstar still standing.
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