LOS ANGELES — There was a moment when Anthony Davis took a last-second attempt at the shot clock buzzer, and tripped up over the Clippers’ scorers table as he backed into the sideline.
He spent a few tense seconds grabbing his right ankle, then retying his shoe. That one looked worse than it actually was, Davis said later.
What the crowd couldn’t see was his back, tensing up during the first timeout, then the second, as the Lakers’ deficit grew in Thursday’s game against the Clippers at Staples Center. And by the time he checked out around the 3-minute mark, Davis said, he felt tight enough that he couldn’t play on: “It got to the point where it was pretty tough.”
If Davis’ back was a tough obstacle, his absence was an insurmountable one for the short-handed Lakers, who were already skating on thin ice against the Clippers with him, but without him had to discard a good amount of their pre-game plans. Center Marc Gasol subbed in midway through the second quarter and was immediately pressured, as the Clippers forced two steals on their way to building a 20-plus-point lead.
But Davis said he doesn’t foresee the back spasms he suffered Thursday costing him a start on Friday night in Portland, where a critical tiebreaker with the Trail Blazers hangs in the balance. The Lakers already know they will be without LeBron James, Dennis Schröder and Talen Horton-Tucker for what Davis called “probably the biggest game” so far this season.
“I should be good to go tomorrow, based on how it’s feeling now,” said Davis, an eight-time All-Star. “But I’m gonna still wake up and test it out. But my plan is to still go tomorrow.”
Perhaps because of his stiffness, Davis’ game was not shaping up to be a good one: He was just 2 for 9 with four points in his 9-minute shift. That performance comes on the heels of perhaps Davis’ best game since his return from a nine-week injury absence – a 25-point effort against Denver, which included the game-clinching blocked shot.
For a Lakers team without its best playmakers against Portland, the question is even more pressing than usual: Which Davis will they get?
Coach Frank Vogel said he’s following the lead of the medical team in this case.
“We’re already trying to be responsible with his minutes,” he said. “Obviously, we’ll have to see how it feels tomorrow. It’s tough not having him in there, but obviously, you have to make the best decision for health.”
If the Lakers (37-29) – already one game behind fifth-place Dallas, which owns a tiebreaker over them – lose to the Blazers (37-29), it won’t bode well for their hopes to avoid the play-in tournament which begins on May 18, just two days after their final regular-season game. The seventh and eighth seeds must lose twice to be eliminated (playing each other, with the loser of that game facing the winner of the 9-10 game). As banged-up as the Lakers are, they don’t need more games tacked on to the regular season.
But Davis, who has spoken about avoiding the play-in games recently, acknowledged that the Lakers have a level of acceptance if it doesn’t swing their way.
“We don’t look at it as something bad,” he said. “To be honest, we need a lot of games, we need games to get back accustomed to each other, anyway. So, I mean, if it happens that way, it happens that way. Obviously, we don’t want to go that route. But if it happens, it happens.”
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