Hi, this is Tania Ganguli, Lakers beat writer for the Los Angeles Times, here with your Lakers newsletter.
The campaigning has begun.
“I think he can and will win defensive player of the year this year,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “I think there’s no one in the league like him defensively.”
“He came off the floor saying first-team all- defense and I was telling him, no, no. Player of the year,” Alex Caruso said.
“I got him as MVP and defensive player of the year,” Rajon Rondo said.
“It’s not hard when you’re the defensive player of the year,” LeBron James said, grinning, when asked about a play when Davis closed out on a three-point shooter as he faked, then blocked his shot anyway.
Davis leads the team in blocks, steals and rebounds per game, but the real impact of his presence is more than that.
Vogel likes to say that individual awards are actually team awards, and in many ways he’s right. MVP voters sometimes skew toward the best player on the best team. Defensive player of the year also depends a lot on the team’s level of success.
“If you’re gonna win you gotta believe you can win,” Vogel said. “And when you have that type of guy by your side, either behind you when you’re guarding on the perimeter or having passed him off and switching and he’s guarding on the perimeter, it gives you a whole new level of confidence that you’re going to prevail against even good teams.”
Davis’ evolution defensively has forced him out of his comfort zone.
“I think the biggest thing for me that was different is the way the game has changed guarding 4s [power forwards],” Davis said. “A lot of people run the corner action where they put the 4 in the corner, they set a pindown and now I’m chasing and being in pick-and-rolls where I’m guarding the ball instead of guarding a screener.”
In a given game, Davis might find himself responsible for guarding any position on the court, which is part of what impresses his teammates and coaches so much about him. In Denver, for example, he found himself taking on center Nikola Jokic as well as guard Jamal Murray.
And it’s only increased his impact. That’s why as the Lakers solidify their defensive identity, they are hyper-aware of Davis’ importance to it.
Davis has been shooting three-pointers fairly regularly this season, and has had spans where he’s been pretty good at it.
But there’s another big man on the Lakers who wants in on that action.
His name is Dwight Howard.
He shot a three-pointer against the Nuggets. He missed. But then he analyzed his attempt, decided he’d overthought it, and reported his findings to Rondo, who had passed him the ball.
“I just told him if I get another shot I wouldn’t let him down,” Howard said.
And he didn’t, making one the next night against the Jazz.
“The shot clock was low,” Rondo said. “I looked at the bench, I was like, welp, he got a green light to shoot this time, there’s no other option here.
“Winning’s fun. When your big’s making a three -- I told him he shoots 125 threes before every game. … I’m glad he took it with confidence.”
It prompted this from Howard: “Might need to shoot my free throws from the three-point line. Might have a better percentage.”
And this from Vogel: “It’s like the scene from ‘Major League’ where Willie Mays Hayes catches it over his shoulder and the manager says, ‘Great catch. Don’t ever do it again.’ One of those situations.”
Because of the holiday it’s been a while since our last newsletter. Let’s catch you up on the highlights.
Since last we spoke…
- One of the most important pieces of news for the Lakers came just after our last newsletter published. Avery Bradley suffered a hairline fracture in his leg. It’s meant the Lakers have been without him since then, and their defense has struggled to adapt. Bradley is a player whose defensive intensity is contagious for the team. But also, with Bradley out they’ve had to use Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Alex Caruso earlier than usual, which has caused a dip for their second units. The Lakers have held only two opponents below 100 points since Bradley’s injury.
- Kobe Bryant attended a game last month. Bryant was in full dad mode, snapping photos of his daughter Gianna with courtside celebrities, but seeing Bryant there made Davis think about his legacy.
- There was only one active team against whom James had never notched a triple double – the Oklahoma City Thunder. There are now none.
- DeMarcus Cousins’ attorney said domestic violence charges against the Lakers’ center have been dropped.
- LeBron James did not get a single free-throw attempt in the Lakers’ win against the Memphis Grizzlies, despite a rather large scratch along his left arm and other scrapes. The Lakers weren’t pleased and talked to the league about it. It’s something James has long felt is true about how he is officiated.
- Sierra Canyon High had its season opener for basketball while the Lakers were in Oklahoma City. James watched the game on an iPad while out to dinner with Chris Paul. It was bittersweet for him because he really wanted to be there for his son’s first high school game.
- With Davis’ impending return, I went to New Orleans a little early so I could see what Pelicans fans thought of Davis’ departure and pending return. But first I had to find them.
- In James’ first game back in Cleveland, he scored 38 points. Davis countered with 41 in New Orleands, though it should also be noted that Davis didn’t experience a fraction of the personal vitriol James did. Davis was booed in his return, but there were a lot of warm feelings for him.
- Frank Vogel won coach of the month for October and November, and I took the opportunity to highlight some signs that he’s won his players over.
- Through the end of November, the Lakers looked unstoppable. It was all fun and games until December.
- In the postgame locker room in Denver, a place filled with very tall men suffering from colds, I got a glimpse of Davis and James’ chemistry. It’s been fun to watch.
- Dwight Howard has continued to impress the Lakers, and had a strong game Tuesday in Denver.
- The Lakers have a group text in which someone dropped the “Nobody cares, work harder,” slogan, having heard it from Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson. They internalized that after their loss to Dallas and followed with back-to-back wins on the road. Crazy to think, Wednesday’s win was James’ first win in Utah since 2010.
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