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Catch-22: Should Anthony Davis sit or play in back-to-back games?

Lakers forward Anthony Davis, right, chats with teammates while sitting out the game against Houston on Wednesday.
(Michael Wyke / Associated Press)
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Hey everyone, it’s Dan Woike, beat writer from the Los Angeles Times, and, against my will, this is the latest edition of the Lakers newsletter. My preference would be to not work on back-to-back weeks, but alas, my pleas for load management have gone unanswered.

So yeah, that’s what we’re going to talk about today.

The decision

It was a game the Lakers needed to win, because, well, they need to win as many of them as possible.

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They played the Houston Rockets, the worst team in the West, on Wednesday night. And because it was the second game on back-to-back nights, they did it without Anthony Davis.

The Lakers lost 114-110, stopping the momentum they’ve built over the last handful of weeks and keeping them from reaching .500 for the first time this season.

The Lakers said Davis is still dealing with issues related to the stress reaction in his right foot that he injured earlier this season.

“Even though he’s been playing pain-free, we made an organizational decision, starting with our team doctors, to hold him out of back-to-backs,” coach Darvin Ham said Tuesday after the Lakers beat New Orleans. “So it’s just one of those things where even though he’s playing pain-free, it’s still an active injury. So we have to monitor it and stick to the plan, as we always have done.”

But the plan, it doesn’t sit right.

The Lakers, as much as any organization, enter each season with a singular goal — to win a championship. If Davis isn’t healthy for the playoffs, the Lakers have zero chance of accomplishing anything close to a title.

So in that way, sitting him is a step toward accomplishing their goals.

But the Lakers have to attain their first — reaching the playoffs.

The situation should be incredibly clear for the Lakers, a handful of teams separated by two games jockeying for a place in the playoffs or the play-in tournament.

Any loss is going to matter. A loss to a team that’s in the West basement will undoubtedly matter. The impact could be severe. It could be the difference between playing in a single-elimination play-in game as a ninth/10th seed or a double-elimination situation as the seventh/eighth seed. It could mean playing on the road instead of at home. It could keep the Lakers out of the playoffs altogether.

The Lakers have said in the past that they have “more than enough” to win and that’s certainly true against the Rockets. Yet without Davis and reserve center Mo Bamba, who is out because of an ankle injury, the Lakers played with almost no rim protection.

Houston attacked the basket early, scored easy buckets, built confidence and ultimately played spoiler.

The options for preventing this from happening are limited.

The team could’ve signed a player to a 10-day contract to fill the empty spot on their roster, ideally offering them more options in the frontcourt after Bamba’s injury.

But there are reasons why those players are available.

While Ham cited the locker room’s chemistry as one reason why the Lakers didn’t make a move, it’s probably more about available talent than anything else.

The other option, of course, is to play Davis and take on the risk.

The Lakers have one more set of back-to-back games this season. They play at Utah and then in Los Angeles against the Clippers — two games that could have huge ramifications to the Lakers’ fate.

The safe bet is that Davis won’t be cleared to play in one of those games as well.

Sitting Davis and prioritizing his health are the most responsible things to do. It’s also not the sporting thing.

There’s an element of competitive dishonesty in keeping a pain-free player off the court for games with big stakes — albeit not the biggest stake.

Privately, executives and ownership around the NBA have been worried about the overall state of the NBA. Ratings continue to slide and regular season games have never felt less important.

All of that was in play for the Lakers Wednesday.

If the team can make the postseason with Davis and LeBron James healthy, the Lakers will be in decent position.

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If they would’ve won Wednesday, it’s a guarantee that position would’ve been even better.

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Song of the week

The Way We Get By” by Spoon

Does it feel good? No. Does it seem like an issue? Yup. But the NBA will march on, players sitting out games, injury prevention and management only gaining momentum.

With that in mind, here’s the best “do-what-you-got-to” song I can think of.

In case you missed it

Short-handed Lakers fall short against Western Conference-worst Rockets

‘We were playing the right way.’ How Anthony Davis and Malik Beasley sparked Lakers

‘He can’t put it on himself’: Why Dennis Schroder says Anthony Davis is not to blame for loss

‘We can’t waste any more time.’ Lakers lose to Knicks, miss chance to reach .500

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Anthony Davis embodying a new vibe that has the Lakers surging at the right time

D’Angelo Russell and hot-shooting bench spark Lakers to comeback over Raptors

‘The physical style’: How Rui Hachimura helped Lakers beat the Grizzlies

D’Angelo Russell ready to reboot his hot Lakers start coming off injury

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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