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Good news, bad news for Lakers: Anthony Davis and stretch run

Lakers forward Anthony Davis practices on the court before a game earlier this season.
Lakers forward Anthony Davis has been ramping up his on-court workouts in recent days, but he’s not ready for full-contact practice or games.
(Lynne Sladky / Associated Press)
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Hey, everyone, it’s Dan Woike, Lakers beat reporter for the L.A. Times, sliding into your email with some not-so-great news, which has been sort of how it’s gone every week that we’ve sent out the weekly newsletter.

As the finish line comes into focus, guess what? The news might be getting worse.

Let’s explain:

Pop and no lock

Over the last two months as the Lakers have slid down the standings, the vibe in news conferences before and after games hasn’t always been good. Actually, more often than not, it’s been awkward.

Players and coaches have been frustrated by being asked the same questions. Reporters, like me, are having a hard time generating new questions because the problems the Lakers face today are basically the same ones since early November.

The general gist has been this: The Lakers have been an exhausting team to play on, to coach and to cover because of one universal truth. This team thought they would be, in one way or another, good. This team has, despite its best efforts, mostly failed to be good. The burden of those unmet expectations combined with injuries that have required them to maintain hope have basically left this team spinning its wheels with the gearshift in neutral.

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Over the last week, though, things have been slightly better. Following another loss to the red-hot Minnesota Timberwolves during which the Lakers were embarrassed by a younger, brasher team, they won in Toronto, played well for three quarters in Washington and played well, again, in a victory in Cleveland. Add in a gutty, under-manned performance against Philadelphia, and the Lakers actually feel like they’re moving in a good direction.

The problem? They’re 2-2 during this “feel good” portion of their schedule, with things about to severely toughen in the final weeks of the season.

The cushion of the play-in tournament and the acceptance that the Lakers will either be ninth or 10th in the standings have helped make some of the losses more palatable. Figuring out the right way to play, building Russell Westbrook‘s confidence and getting (and staying) healthy are all that really matter down the stretch.

Kobe Bryant’s signature shoes will again be produced by Nike, his widow Vanessa announced on Instagram.

March 24, 2022

But it turns out the Lakers will need to win some games too.

The San Antonio Spurs are currently 11th in the West, just two games behind. And if my understanding of protocols is correct, coach Gregg Popovich’s team owns the tiebreaker against the Lakers because of their superior record in conference games.

The Spurs finish the season like this: at New Orleans, at Houston, vs. Memphis, vs. Portland (twice), at Denver, at Minnesota, vs. Golden State and at Dallas.

If the Spurs win three of those games, the Lakers would need at least two more victories this year to hold them off.

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That sounds easy enough until you look at their schedule.

It begins Sunday in New Orleans (the Pelicans on the second day of back-to-back games). From there the schedule has them at Dallas, at Utah, vs. New Orleans, vs. Denver, at Phoenix, at Golden State, vs. Oklahoma City and at Denver.

There’s no lock that there are three wins in there, although the odds improve if (or more likely when) Anthony Davis returns to the court.

The Pelicans have a schedule advantage over the Lakers, as well, playing Portland twice in addition to two with the Lakers, one with the Spurs and one with Sacramento.

All of this is to say that the Lakers better hope their recent optimism isn’t just desperate hope. The changes better be real — because the chance the Lakers thought they had to reach the play-in tournament hasn’t been confirmed yet.

Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo reaches for the ball as Lakers forward Anthony Davis works in the post.
Bucks forward Giannis Antetokounmpo reaches for the ball as Lakers forward Anthony Davis works in the post during a game in early February.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

What have we noticed with AD?

It’s been almost two weeks of Davis getting in on-court shooting work before games, and as best as we can notice, the intensity of the workouts has been increasing.

That’s a great sign as he returns from his foot strain — an injury that undoubtedly could’ve been worse.

While the Lakers haven’t said when he’ll return to game action — he’d need to be cleared for full-contact work first — Davis has said that he’s not concerned about needing a long ramp-up to get his wind back to where it needs to be.

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We still haven’t seen Davis running at full speed or pushing his pregame workouts to full speed. But we haven’t seen him slow down either, the team’s hopeful tone about his return matching his on-court progress.

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Song of the week

Phoenix by Big Red Machine, featuring Fleet Foxes & Anaïs Mitchell

Should the Lakers survive the play-in tournament, their path will undoubtedly run through Phoenix so let’s enjoy this one from Big Red Machine — an indie rock superduo with Bon Iver’s Justin Vernon and the National’s Aaron Dessner. And, yes, the band name is a nod to the ‘70s Reds.

In case you missed it

— Lakers new starter Stanley Johnson’s inspired play a silver lining in loss

— Kobe Bryant’s signature shoes will again be produced by Nike

Lakers can’t build on momentum as they fall to 76ers

— Lakers-Cavaliers takeaways: D.J. Augustin couldn’t miss in L.A.’s win

— LeBron James has triple-double, monster dunk in Lakers’ win over Cavaliers

— LeBron James reaches No. 2 on NBA’s career scoring list, but Lakers lose to Wizards

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— LeBron James and big finish vs. Raptors help Lakers snap 11-game road skid

— Q&A: Author of Kobe Bryant book ‘The Rise’ gives his insights

— Lakers’ latest struggles were the talk of the Timberwolves

Until next time...

As always, pass along your thoughts to me at daniel.woike@latimes.com, and please consider subscribing if you like our work!

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