Can Lakers pin postseason hopes on Anthony Davis’ return?

Injured All-Stars LeBron James, left, and Anthony Davis sit on the bench.
Injured All-Stars LeBron James and Anthony Davis are likely to sit out the game Thursday against Utah, but the Lakers are hopeful Davis will return to the lineup before the end of this week.
(Ashley Landis / Associated Press)
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Welcome to this week’s Lakers newsletter, I’m Dan Woike, beat writer for the L.A. Times. The Lakers keep digging deeper into a hole and the time to get out of it is either moving too quickly or (if you’re completely over this team) too slowly.

For the Lakers, and fittingly as we head into this final stretch of the season, I’m ready to look at the lone remaining reason to follow this team as optimism. But I’m not buying it.


AD to the rescue?

Anthony Davis is about to be asked to save the Lakers.

For the better part of a month, once it became clear Davis probably would make a return before the end of the regular season, “getting AD back” was the critical piece to the Lakers turning their season around and peaking at the right time.

Yet, with seven games left and Davis on the cusp of a return, it’s as clear as ever that there are no peaks for this Lakers team — only bottomless valleys to keep stumbling into.

Before LeBron James rolled his ankle into the court against New Orleans, he made it clear that he didn’t think Davis’ eventual return would fix the Lakers massive list of problems.

“It puts a band-aid on some things, but I mean, we just haven’t had enough chemistry, enough time with our group to be able to know exactly who we are and who we can become,” James said after the Lakers lost in Phoenix earlier this month. “… It’s going to be challenging for us. AD definitely helps, but it’s not the answer to all the questions.”

James won’t be on the court Thursday in Utah, the Lakers running out of nights when they can afford to simply hope for better days ahead this season. Davis probably won’t play, either — the Lakers’ big man being listed as doubtful against the Jazz.


A return Friday on the second night of back-to-back games in a crucial contest against the New Orleans Pelicans seems more likely, with a game against the Denver Nuggets on Sunday afternoon also looming as a return date.

The good news is that we’ve seen Davis come back from injuries before and not need much of a runway to regain his rhythm. The bad news is that even if Davis plays well, it’s probably not going to lead to winning — much in the same way that great games from James don’t always equal wins.

Without James, the Lakers are 6-14 this season. In games Davis has missed, the Lakers are 14-24.

With James, Davis and Russell Westbrook playing together, the Lakers are 11-9 — just slightly better than .500 at a time when the team probably will need to win at least three more times, and more likely four, to earn a spot in the postseason play-in tournament.

Then, they’d need to win consecutive games to just make the playoffs as the eighth-seeded team — something the team hasn’t done since early January.

“We’re hopeful that those two games are going to be played with Anthony Davis instead of short-handed, adding guys off the waiver wire and trying to get through,” coach Frank Vogel said after the team lost to Philadelphia. “So, again, we can look at how we got to this point, or we can look who we’re going to be when we get to those games. And we believe in who we’re going to be when we get to those games.”


Yet that belief had to include a healthy James. Davis hasn’t been enough to carry the Lakers this season when he has been healthy, and with the competition about to be as tough as it has been all season, there’s very little evidence to suggest that Davis will be able to do it now.

Vogel has insisted that he thinks his team is committed to making a push for a play-in spot.

“It hasn’t been enough to get as many wins as we have wanted to, but our guys have stayed in the fight,” he said. “I expect them to down the stretch, even though we’ve lost ‘Bron and that’s the latest, and maybe biggest, blow to our psyche.

“… Care factor very high. Competitive spirit very high. And trying to give ourselves a chance to be that team that catches fire at the right time.”

Catching fire can also mean a complete burning down of everything, and the team is more likely headed in that direction. The Lakers’ season now depends on Davis being able to flip those odds when he comes back.

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Song of the week

Vagabond,” by Steve Gunn

In a world with no responsibilities, I’d probably be spending one of the last off nights of the season going to see Gunn play a show at Zebulon in Los Angeles on Saturday night. Instead, I’ll probably be at home trying to make sense of this Lakers season while I decide whether or not I should get packed for the next Lakers’ road trip. If ever there was a good time be a vagabond, this stretch of the Lakers’ schedule might be as good as any.

In case you missed it

— Lakers fall to 11th place in West, out of postseason picture, with big loss in Dallas

‘Time’s running out’: Lakers have eight games to prove their postseason worthiness

— Lakers blow 20-point halftime lead, lose to Pelicans and fall to 10th place in West

— Lakers-Pelicans showdown Sunday: Play-in preview matchup?

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


Until next time...

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