Hi, this is Tania Ganguli, Lakers beat writer for the Los Angeles Times, here with your Lakers newsletter.
Years ago an NBA general manager told me something that stuck with me. “Beware of a great player on a bad team,” he said. He thought it said something about whether that player had a willingness to win and the qualities necessary to make the most of his talents for the sake of the team.
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What Anthony Davis has done this season has been an argument against that kind of thinking. For years he was a great player on a bad team. Twice he was a great player on a team that became a scrappy underdog in the playoffs and didn’t get very far.
Now, though, Davis is a great player on a great team and he has seamlessly adjusted to the change in expectation. The fact that he plays for an organization that expects to compete for a championship this season and thinks it can win it doesn’t make him shrink. He’s still able to shine.
If you ask Rajon Rondo, who played alongside Davis in New Orleans, that’s because there was no adjustment needed. He was asked about the subject after Tuesday night’s game when Davis played a particularly inspired second quarter.
“No,” Rondo said, when asked if Davis has changed. “I played with him I think two seasons ago, and he was pretty locked in. We had a pretty good run at it a couple years back. But this is obviously a bigger stage, more lights, more action, and he’s been doing it since obviously I played with him.”
LeBron James didn’t even let me get that far. I asked him if something about the opportunity to win a championship can be inspiring for great players like himself and Davis. James rejected the premise. He talked, as he often does, about the process and how important it is for him to focus on that.
“That’s a ways away, that’s a ways away,” James said. “Right now we’re playing for a growth mind set and how we continue to get better throughout the regular season, how we can get better every week. And as the season continues to wind down, how we can get better as the playoffs start.”
All season long, the Lakers have accepted the burden of championship expectations. They’ve been clear that’s what they want. When asked to discuss that in less abstract terms, they downplay it. Publicly, there are no predictions or bold proclamations in those moments.
A week ago I was very pessimistic about the Memphis Grizzlies’ chances of retaining the eighth seed for the playoffs, and optimistic about the Pelicans’ chances of moving into that position.
That has not borne out yet.
The Grizzlies are on a three-game winning streak, including a win over the Lakers on Saturday, and the Pelicans are on a three-game losing streak, including a loss to the Lakers. Although there are other teams hoping for the playoffs that are surging, they won’t get there without some help from Memphis.
Luke Walton’s Sacramento Kings have won three games in a row and the Portland Trail Blazers have won two. But they are both 3 1/2 games behind the Grizzlies, who throttled the Brooklyn Nets Wednesday night.
The Lakers, meanwhile, still have a 5 1/2-game lead at the top of the Western Conference. It used to be the Denver Nuggets trailing them, but now a different team sits behind them hoping for a Lakers stumble: the Clippers, who are on a five-game winning streak.
Since we last spoke ...
- The Lakers are a very different team without James in the lineup, and it’s something they’ve been working to figure out for months. Our Broderick Turner examined the issue.
- The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department ordered deputies to delete photos of the Kobe Bryant helicopter crash scene, after a citizen complained about a deputy showing those photos at a bar, sources told our Alene Tchekmedyian and Paul Pringle. This was done rather than put the deputies through a formal disciplinary process. “This is an unspeakable violation of human decency, respect, and of the privacy rights of the victims and their families,” said Vanessa Bryant’s attorney Gary C. Robb.
- Anthony Davis shared what he considers his best game ever with our Dan Woike.
- Last week the Lakers scheduled a workout with Dion Waiters and JR Smith. The problem? They already had 15 players on their roster and had they decided to sign either Smith or Waiters after that workout, someone would have been released without the opportunity to catch on with another playoff team. It probably would have been Troy Daniels. To avoid that, Daniels’ agent worked with the Lakers to secure Daniels’ release by March 1. He’s now a member of the Denver Nuggets.
- The “junior Lakers” gave the current Lakers about all they could handle in New Orleans. It was also Game 2 of Zion vs. LeBron.
- Markieff Morris didn’t like how he responded to facing Zion Williamson. He got it out of his system with some push-ups in the hallway after the game.
- Waiters and Smith had strong workouts, but the Lakers weren’t in any rush to make a move. They waived Daniels to maintain flexibility, and that might mean waiting until an injury creates a need later in the season.
- The 76ers were missing three starters Tuesday night, making it imperative for the Lakers to take advantage. They did just that.
- Jeanie Buss spoke at a Lakers All Access event on Monday and criticized then-coach Mike D’Antoni’s handling of Dwight Howard in the 2012-13 season. Those comments were relayed to Howard, who thanked Buss for standing up for him. But he didn’t want to go back there.
- LeBron James has taken three deep three-pointers this week and made two of them. He’s got a green light to do it and the Lakers have become increasingly confident in his ability to make them. Frank Vogel quipped that they are good attempts when they go in and bad attempts when they don’t.