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Why Lakers’ Anthony Davis has expressed optimism he will stay healthy throughout season

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EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — After completing an intense practice, Los Angeles Lakers forward Anthony Davis plopped down on a chair in front of a handful of microphones. He didn’t seem to need to rest, though. Davis appeared ready to practice again.

"I feel great," Davis said following the Lakers’ first day of practice on Wednesday. "Body feels great. I’m ready to go."

Davis could hardly say the same thing the last time he stepped on a basketball court nearly 3½ months ago. Well before the Lakers failed to defend their NBA title with a decisive Game 6 first-round loss to the Phoenix Suns, Davis sat on the floor adjacent to the Lakers’ bench midway through the first quarter. Before that, Davis struggled to move at all.

Not only did that moment capture Davis’ limitations after missing the second half of Game 4 and all of Game 5 because of a strained left groin. The moment also captured Davis’ limited 2020-21 season that entailed missing a combined 36 games, including 30 because of a strained right calf.

Anthony Davis suffered a left groin strain during Game 4 of the Lakers' first round playoff series against the Suns. He missed Game 5 and was hampered in his Game 6 return.
Anthony Davis suffered a left groin strain during Game 4 of the Lakers' first round playoff series against the Suns. He missed Game 5 and was hampered in his Game 6 return.

"That didn’t sit well with me," Davis said. "So I made an emphasis on just taking care of my body and getting my body back to what it was."

Davis had plenty of work this offseason. Although he had maintained his right calf injury was fully healed, Davis completed various drills to strengthen his right Achilles tendon. Davis also spent the extended off-season healing his strained left groin and his sprained left knee, another ailment that had limited him during the playoffs.

Davis did not just struggle with injuries last season. Davis missed at least seven games in each of his other eight seasons because of various ailments. He has missed 153 games over his career. Before last season, Davis signed a five-year, $190 million extension with the Lakers partly because of his “little history with injuries.” Because of that track record, TNT analyst Charles Barkley referred to the Lakers’ star as "Anthony Streetclothes Davis."

Both Davis and the Lakers brushed off whether he feels motivated with any outside criticism about his durability.

"Anthony, quite frankly, doesn’t need a whole lot of that," Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. "He’s very motivated to have a bounce-back year from what happened last year. We’re all disappointed he wasn’t able to be at his best, due to the injuries and the lack of the offseason. But he’s definitely put in the work this offseason, and he looks really good."

Davis stressed that his rejuvenated body had nothing to do with making any fundamental changes to his training and dieting regimen.

Davis chalked up his injury-riddled past to unique circumstances. Before last season, most of Davis’ ailments only kept him out for a handful of games. Last season, Davis’ injuries occurred after landing awkwardly on the court following a hustle play. The Lakers also started last season only 71 days after winning the NBA championship in the league’s campus bubble.

"I didn’t have that much time to get back on track from the bubble and going into the next season. I think for a lot of guys in the league, that’s why a lot of guys were getting hurt," Davis said. "But I had my full summer where I was able to have 12 weeks — three months or four months of training to get my body back to where it’s supposed to be."

Now that Davis’ body is where it is supposed to be, the Lakers project that he will play more like he did with his first season with them (26.1 points, 9.3 rebounds) than he did in his second season (21.8 points, 7.9 rebounds).

Although the Lakers have also acquired Dwight Howard and DeAndre Jordan this offseason, Vogel plans to play Davis more at center. Davis has previously scoffed at that idea in hopes of preserving his body, but he expressed more openness to that role this season. While the Lakers expect LeBron James and Davis to foster consistent chemistry just as they did in their first two seasons together, the Lakers also see the pairing between Davis and Russell Westbrook as just as effective in pick-and-roll situations.

"It can be deadly because AD is obviously one of the best players in the world," Westbrook said. "He can play inside. He can shoot it and pretty much do everything. Him at the 5, you never know where he’s going to be."

The Lakers received a glimpse of what that could be in their first practice.

Unlike during last year’s training camp, the Lakers played with full intensity during their first day of practice. During that session, Davis said he and Westbrook had "ongoing conversations" on how to ensure a well-balanced offense as well as how he can relieve defensive pressure off of the Lakers’ backcourt. As much as Davis believes he has "the capability" of becoming the team’s No. 1 option, he stressed the importance that he also leans on other veteran teammates, including James, Westbrook, Carmelo Anthony and Rajon Rondo.

"I like teammates who are going to push me," Davis said. "Encouragement, I don’t need to be encouraged. I want to be pushed. I want guys to tell me when I’m messing up."

Hence, it didn’t seem surprising when Davis revealed that "we got a lot of (trash) talkers on this team." Westbrook interjected, "Starting with you." Yet, Davis remains more intent with having his actions speak louder than his words this season, something he remains confident about fulfilling now that he has a healthy body.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Lakers’ Anthony Davis optimistic he can remain healthy this season