Lakers’ Title Hopes Hinge On Anthony Davis — Not LeBron James
The Los Angeles Lakers will enter the Western Conference playoffs with the No. 1 overall seed.
Following a convincing 116-108 victory over the Utah Jazz on Monday night, the Lakers clinched the top overall seed in the conference for the first time since the 2009-10 season, the last time the franchise won the championship.
As the Lakers won their second bubble matchup in three games, it’s become apparent that the team’s championship hopes run through none other than Anthony Davis.
It was Davis yet again whom the Lakers ran their offense through in their latest win. The 6-foot-11 forward steamrolled a legit playoff contender in the Jazz to the tune of 42 points and 12 rebounds on 13-of-28 shooting. There was LeBron James once again with a quiet — but near triple-double — performance of 22 points, nine assists and eight rebounds on 9-of-16 shooting.
Davis’ aggressiveness led to the Lakers pulling away during a key third quarter run. The 27-year-old dropped 10 of the team’s 18 points in the final six minutes of the third quarter, pushing Los Angeles’ lead to 10 points at the end of the period. The Lakers led by as many as 14 points.
Despite the Jazz matching up two-time Defensive Player of the Year Rudy Gobert on him, Davis couldn’t be slowed down.
Via Tania Ganguli of The Los Angeles Times:
“They really don’t have a great matchup for him, in my opinion, so they put Rudy [Gobert] on him and gave him a little length,” Lakers guard Alex Caruso said. “You put someone small on him, he can post him up. You put somebody big on him, and he can bring them out, and he did that late in the game. He brought Rudy out to the perimeter and made some tough shots. He’s Anthony Davis. He does what he does.”
Davis’ latest performance is just his latest dominant display. Although James ended the Lakers’ restart opener as the hero with his game-winning basket, it was Davis who was the true key to victory. The big man posted a dominant 34-point, eight-rebound, four-assist stat line as he took advantage of an undersized Los Angeles Clippers front line.
Fast forward to one game following the team’s win over the Clippers and the Lakers fell to the Toronto Raptors in a 15-point loss. The Lakers were outscored by 13 points in the final period as Davis looked tentative after he was held to just 14 points, six rebounds and three assists on just 2-of-7 shooting — including zero shot attempts in the final six minutes. It was James who emerged as the team’s No. 1 offensive option for the game, taking 15 shot attempts.
While James is one of the two leading MVP candidates — the Milwaukee Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo is the other — it is Davis who the Lakers will rely upon if they are to win their 17th NBA title.
The Lakers’ biggest test in the postseason remains none other than the Clippers. And as evidenced in the restart opener, their offense will have to run through Davis — not James — in order for the Purple and Gold to steamroll through their crosstown rivals. The Clippers have just two players over 6-foot-9 on their roster — Ivica Zubac and the aging Joakim Noah — and none of them can match up with Davis in the post, as evidenced in the restart opener.
When you look across the Western Conference playoff picture, the Lakers have one clear-cut advantage over their opposing competition and it’s not the presence of James — it’s the presence of Davis.
The Houston Rockets — a potential playoff foe — do not have the front line presence to match up with Davis. The tallest player in the rotation is often the 6-foot-8 Robert Covington with the 6-foot-5 P.J. Tucker frequently playing center.
Neither the Memphis Grizzlies, Portland Trail Blazers or Dallas Mavericks have a true big body that can slow down Davis. If the 7-foot-2 Gobert — arguably the best defensive post presence in the league — can’t slow down Davis, are we really going to trust the likes of Kristaps Porzingis, Jusuf Nurkic and Jonas Valanciunas to do so in a briusing seven-game playoff series?
The Lakers will enter the 2020 postseason field as the betting favorites to hoist another Larry O’Brien Trophy. And while the 35-year-old James — as ageless and efficient as he is in his 17th season — remains the storyline of the 2019-20 Lakers, it is Davis — not James — who will be the key to whether or not the team is able to win their 17th title this season.