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Opinion: Lakers’ LeBron James, Anthony Davis showing they can play through their injuries

·6 min read
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LOS ANGELES – One Lakers star has dealt with pain with a right high ankle sprain ever since injuring it nearly two months ago. But LeBron James still vowed to fight through his ailment.

Another Lakers star has dealt with pain with a hyperextension in his left knee ever since landing on his left leg awkwardly in his most recent game. But Anthony Davis still insisted on having a similar attitude with his ailment.

Therefore, the most encouraging development out of the Lakers’ 109-95 victory over the Phoenix Suns in Game 3 of their first-round series goes well beyond the obvious implications with having a 2-1 series lead. It points to James and Davis performing well while showing encouraging signs with their injuries.

James finished with 21 points and nine assists, including 10 in the third quarter while either driving aggressively to the basket or facilitating the offense. Most importantly, James showed the kind of sharpness that he lacked during a two-game return following his initial 20-game absence and even when he shed off his rust for the last two regular-season games. Even compared to the Lakers’ first two playoff games, James showed progress simply by appearing more geared toward finding shots at the rim as opposed to just behind the 3-point line.

“I’m still trying to deal with that to get it to where it was before the injury, but every day is a step forward,” James said. “I’ll continue to put the work into it with my treatment around the clock and to where it was before the injury. Until then, my teammates will continue to hold me down and I’ll try to make plays for them.”

Obviously, James will mostly try to make plays for Davis, who had a team-leading 34 points while shooting 11-of-22 from the field and 12-of-14 from the free-throw line and collecting 11 rebounds. He scored 18 of those points in the third quarter despite hyperextending his left knee after performing a chase-down block on Suns guard Devin Booker with 2:36 left in the second quarter. And just like he showed in a bounce-back performance in Game 2, Davis scored his points mostly by attacking the basket and dominating the paint instead of settling for jumpers.

Anthony Davis (3) fueled a big second half to help the Lakers overcome the Suns.
Anthony Davis (3) fueled a big second half to help the Lakers overcome the Suns.

“It felt fine throughout the rest of the game,” Davis said. “We didn’t have any problems with it. But that was all of adrenaline.”

Therefore, Davis might feel more pain when he wakes up Friday morning. He also plans to receive treatment on Friday and Saturday. Either way, Davis vowed to be “ready to go” when the Lakers play Phoenix in Game 4 on Sunday afternoon at Staples Center.

Granted, injuries can always take unexpected turns. Just look at what has happened to Suns guard Chris Paul while he’s played this series nursing an injured right shoulder. Look at what happened this season to James, who missed a combined 26 games with his high right ankle sprain. And look at what happened to Davis, who sat for 30 games this season after straining his right calf.

But when James and Davis suffered their initial injuries, they immediately left the court. That was not the case for Davis in Game 3. After limping for the remaining 2:36 of the first half, Davis walked so slowly off the court that he became the last player to enter the locker room. When his teammates returned to the court for warmups, Davis sat on the bench.

Moments before the second half started, though, Davis took off his warmups and reported to the scorer’s table. He had worn a heatpack during halftime, and believed he felt warm enough to keep playing.

Davis did not look entirely comfortable, though.

LeBron James, who got off to a slow start, picked things up with 16 second-half points to go along with nine total assists.
LeBron James, who got off to a slow start, picked things up with 16 second-half points to go along with nine total assists.

After James set Davis up for a dunk, he winced afterwards. During a subsequent timeout, Davis paced around the Lakers bench before bending his knees. Lakers coach Frank Vogel said he kept telling Davis, “At any point you get a little gassed, I got a sub for you.” Vogel also said there were “several moments” he told the Lakers’ training staff that Davis should sit. But Vogel reported them saying, “He’s good to go and he wants to stay; it’s just about playing through pain.”

So, Davis still stayed on the court.

“Just a gutsy tough performance from a great player,” Vogel said. “We needed it. We needed him to stay in there to get this W. He knew that. He did whatever it took for us to get this W.”

Davis did that despite experiencing some other awkward moments.

Davis could not connect on another James lob and fell while pursuing the pass. That prompted Davis' teammates to leap off the bench and pick him up as if they were saving fine china from breaking. James found Davis for another dunk attempt, and his shot bricked off the rim and sailed high in the air.

Nonetheless, Davis converted on a hook shot, powered past Suns center Deandre Ayton for a reverse layup and had a consistent post presence.

“A little discomfort, but not enough to keep me out,” Davis said. “I didn’t think about it. I just kept playing. I got two days to get it right. I’ll leave this out on the floor and fight through it.”

The Lakers benefit because James had a similar mentality. While the Lakers (3-of-16) and Suns (4-of-13) both struggled from 3-point range in the first half, James struggled with only five points on 2-of-6 shooting while committing five of his seven turnovers. But at halftime, James vowed to become more aggressive and test out his comfort level with attacking the basket.

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The result: Vogel observed that James’ “whole mindset changed the course of the game” en route to 10 points and three assists in the third quarter. The most dramatic play occurred when James finished with a reverse layup over Suns forward Jae Crowder. Afterwards, Davis said that James told him “he’s still got another gear.”

It is not a coincidence that James revved his engine just as Davis turned his on as well. While James’ playmaking gives Davis more chances for easy baskets, Davis’ presence gives James more room to run the offense.

“We’re going to need that to continue to happen,” James said. “It starts with him. It trickles off to me and I’m able to make some things happen. When he’s aggressive, we’re all aggressive.”

Granted, the Lakers have some other injuries to monitor. Lakers guard Dennis Schroder took a hard fall after Booker committed a Flagrant Foul 2. Lakers guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope missed the fourth quarter after suffering a left quad contusion. While Schroder helps the Lakers’ playmaking, Caldwell-Pope helps the Lakers’ outside shooting.

Still, the Lakers’ entire identity centers around James and Davis. And at the time the Lakers need them the most, both Davis and James are elevating their play while showing they can handle their various ailments.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: LeBron James, Anthony Davis fight injuries to put Lakers up on Suns