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Lakers, who will miss Anthony Davis a little longer, rally to beat Indiana Pacers

The Lakers' Kyle Kuzma dribbles past the Indiana Pacers' Jeremy Lamb during the first half March 12, 2021.
The Lakers’ Kyle Kuzma dribbles past the Indiana Pacers’ Jeremy Lamb at Staples Center. Kuzma had 24 points and 13 rebounds off the bench in the Lakers’ 105-100 win.
(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

Anthony Davis sat in the front row of the Lakers’ socially distanced-bench in a hooded sweatshirt and dark jeans ripped at his left knee. And during the first timeout of Friday’s game with Indiana, Davis wandered around — a quick chat with Markieff Morris, a few moments with the Lakers’ two-way players and a couple of words with the assistant coaches who weren’t in the huddle.

This is how he can help for at least the next seven games — only with words — as Davis remains out with the calf injury that caused a serious Achilles tendon scare nearly a month ago.

The Lakers rallied to beat the Pacers 105-100 at Staples Center to start the second half of their schedule, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope coming up with a key steal on an inbounds pass in the final seconds and making two free throws to seal it. Team owner Jeanie Buss, attending just her second game this season, stood and applauded after the win.

Davis was evaluated by Lakers doctors before the game, the team saying that its All-Star big man is “progressing in his recovery and has been cleared to enter the next phase of his return-to-play process.”

The Lakers said that Davis would be evaluated again in two weeks.

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“We’ll be patient,” coach Frank Vogel said.

Highlights from the Lakers’ 105-100 victory over the Indiana Pacers at Staples Center on Friday night.

With Davis sidelined for the 15th time this season, it again looked like a struggle for the Lakers, with LeBron James trying to get teammates involved and only a couple of them able to step up.

Kyle Kuzma scored 15 of his 24 points in the fourth quarter to erase a 12-point deficit, his back-to-back threes midway through the period giving the Lakers the lead for good. He and Montrezl Harrell, who added 17 off the bench, combined to score 16 consecutive points to support James (18 points and 10 assists).

But the win was a reminder of the issues that are ahead while Davis continues to recover.

The Lakers previously had given Davis a four-week timeline that included a ramp-up to a return to play. The latest update pushes that timeline back at least eight more days.

The Lakers' LeBron James drives to the basket between the Pacers' Jeremy Lamb, left, and Aaron Holiday on March 12, 2021.
The Lakers’ LeBron James drives to the basket between the Pacers’ Jeremy Lamb, left, and Aaron Holiday. James finished with 18 points and 10 assists.
(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

The Lakers frontcourt will be much discussed between now and the March 25 trade deadline, especially with starting center Marc Gasol still unavailable while he’s in the NBA’s health and safety protocols. He entered the protocols the Tuesday before the All-Star break and there’s been no update.

The team has been rumored to be shopping for help at center. Against Indiana, the Lakers started Damian Jones, whom they signed to a second 10-day contract Thursday. The Lakers also have Harrell and Morris playing increased roles.

“We have two big guys that can man the middle in DJ and obviously Trezz playing bigger minutes off the bench. We’ll start with DJ again and keep Trezz in his role,” Vogel said in a pregame videoconference. “Kieff has been starting, doing good a job with us at the four position, and we’ll play with a smaller second unit. That’s kind of the formula I see going forwards until those guys are back.”

It’s a formula based on necessity and not innovation.

The Lakers were struggling heading into the All-Star break, but Anthony Davis should be back soon to help LeBron and Co.

With the Lakers hurting for defense at the basket, Indiana — one of the few teams to start two traditional big men in Myles Turner and Domantas Sabonis — attacked the rim without fear of resistance.

The Pacers scored 16 points in the paint in the first quarter and 20 in the second, while guard Malcolm Brogdon cooked from the outside. Brogdon scored 18 of his 29 points in the first quarter, the second most the Lakers’ top-rated defense has allowed a player to score in a quarter all season (Chicago’s Zach LaVine had 19).

The Lakers are allowing an average of 48.1 points per game in the paint, slightly worse than last season. Indiana finished with 50.

While the Pacers went to the basket without problems, the Lakers had four dunks either blocked or altered by the Indiana frontcourt. The Lakers adjusted and finished the game with 54 points in the paint — 34 coming in the second half.

Already short-handed, the Lakers played the second quarter largely without guard Alex Caruso, who hit the back of his head against the court after slipping and returned to the locker room. On the same play Harrell, one of the team’s two healthy centers, limped up the court while grabbing his lower back.

Joel Embiid left Philadelphia’s game at Washington on Friday night following a dunk that resulted in an awkward landing on his left leg.

Caruso was ruled out of the game with a head contusion while being evaluated for a concussion.

And while Davis’ absence affected the team defensively — he’s one of the NBA’s best on that side of the court — the Lakers’ offense continued to be the more obvious weakness.

The team made just three of 13 from deep while scoring only 46 points in the first half. Since Davis’ injury, the Lakers’ offense ranked 22nd in the NBA entering Friday.

The Lakers were four for nine on threes in the second half, Kuzma’s hot shooting flipping the game. But the tight win came against an incomplete Pacers team that’s below .500.

If things are going to get easier, it’ll have to happen with the guys in uniform figuring it out.

The easiest answer, the one in the hoodie and the jeans who could make the biggest difference, won’t be back just yet.

“We’re still undermanned right now, and we’re going to be for some time,” Vogel said. “We still have to compete and win games.”


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