With Anthony Davis sitting out, Darvin Ham must wait for Lakers lineup he really wants

Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton (22) and Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (6) battle for the ball during the first half of a preseason NBA basketball game Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2022, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)
Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton and Lakers forward LeBron James battle for the ball during the first half of a preseason game on Wednesday in Las Vegas. (John Locher / Associated Press)

Darvin Ham wanted to see a lineup, the one that plenty of NBA folks feel could be one of the team’s best.

Anthony Davis would start Wednesday’s game against the Suns in Las Vegas at center, the type of small-ball group that should allow the Lakers to fly around on both ends of the court.

Ham wanted to go with LeBron James, Russell Westbrook, Patrick Beverley, Austin Reaves and Davis.

But to see it, he’s going to have to wait.

Davis was a late scratch because of lower back tightness. A team spokesperson said it wasn’t anything “new” and just “precautionary” with the Lakers playing three games in four nights. Before being held out, Davis did an on-court workout.

Ham said Davis will not play Thursday. The team will also hold James and Westbrook out for the second game of a back-to-back.

Before the decision to sit Davis ahead of the Lakers’ 119-115 loss to the Phoenix Suns, Ham said he didn’t think it mattered whether Davis played power forward or center when it comes to keeping him healthy.

“You don’t have to see the Shaqs anymore and the Patrick Ewings. Those big, beefy guys that you have to wrestle with,” Ham said. “The rules were a lot different back then. ... But now, and I think he’s made huge steps in this direction, it’s basically about being the best version of yourself physically and being available first and foremost as opposed to worrying about bumps and bruises, whether you’re playing the 4 or the 5.”

Though the NBA’s best centers don’t exclusively play on the block, it’s not as if there’s no physical toll to playing the position.

Wenyen Gabriel, who replaced Davis at center Wednesday, said his body feels much differently after playing a game at center compared with playing power forward.

Lakers forward Wenyen Gabriel shoots over Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker.
Lakers forward Wenyen Gabriel shoots over Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker during the second half of a preseason game on Wednesday in Las Vegas. (John Locher / Associated Press)

“It’s heavy lifting,” Gabriel said with a laugh, saying that all the fighting for positioning on rebounds and defending in the pick-and-rolls leave his legs feeling as if he just went through a strength workout.

Suns coach Monty Williams said he sees the benefit to Davis playing power forward, even if the lineups with him at center allow the team to get more guards on the court, even if the lineups with him at center allow the team to get more guards on the court.

“There are just times when your best players on the floor. He gives you the ability to put another really good player on the floor, because he can play both,” Williams said. “I see advantages with him because he’s so versatile, so quick, can put the ball down. He’s much bigger than a 4 so he can punish them, and he’s a versatile defender. So I see advantages both ways. But I might be in the minority. Most people want to just see him play small ball 5 or be a versatile 5. He could probably play some three if he wanted to. He’s just that good.”

Ham said ultimately the Lakers just need Davis to play.

“The key for AD is about the baseline fact of him being available and getting stronger as the season gets longer, getting in better shape as we go by day after day after day,” Ham said. “So it’s not so much about the bumping and bruising. Some of our best lineups are going to entail him being at the 5 — ‘the 5’ — but what that looks like, I think it looks like just as much perimeter basketball as it does interior basketball.”

Etc.

LeBron James scored 23 points in the first half and Russell Westbrook had 12 in 21 minutes Wednesday. ... Lonnie Walker IV went through an extensive workout during the team’s shootaround Wednesday morning and should get game action for the first time this preseason. ... Ham said Troy Brown Jr. (back) still had a “ways to go” before he’ll be game ready. ... The Lakers will play Minnesota on Thursday night in Las Vegas.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.