Anthony Davis cut the lane and finished in the basket for two easy points on a first quarter possession on Friday night and deterred Dallas’ Josh Green and grabbed a defensive rebound on the next trip down the court.
It was the kind of impact Davis can deliver, his unique two-way impact in a game is why the Lakers can still be bullish about the season even though they never got above . 500.
But part of the reason the Lakers have more losses than wins was Wednesday in Houston, when Davis didn’t play in the Rockets’ win.
With him back on court on Friday, it didn’t get any better.
The Lakers lost in a tie, Maxi Kleber swinging a three at the buzzer to beat the Lakers 111-110.
The Lakers were clear on their strategy last month, prioritizing health over qualifying. No holds barred, no back-to-back games to hold anyone back, Friday, the Lakers had an opportunity.
Playing against the Dallas Mavericks, a team just one game ahead of them in the standings going into Friday’s game, the Lakers had a chance to make a real play. Minnesota, Golden State, New Orleans and Portland lost, giving the team a precious chance to gain ground.
After trailing by as many as 14 points, the Lakers fought back to lead by five in fourth before the Mavericks mounted a comeback of their own. Three free throws by Kleber (after he was fouled by three by Davis) resulted in a one-point game.
Davis split two free throws to give the Mavericks a chance to win or tie.
There would be no overtime, the Lakers forcing the ball out of Kyrie Irving’s hands, but Kleber stepped in and fired when the horn sounded.
Davis finished with 26 points and 10 rebounds and five other Lakers scored at least 10 on a night when the team was beaten by Irving and the Mavericks from three-point range.
Dallas made 11 more three-pointers than the Lakers, who also missed 14 free throws to just four for the Mavericks.
To make matters worse, it’s the team’s second consecutive loss after allowing Houston to steal a game on Wednesday with Davis out for precautionary reasons.
“Nobody is going to feel sorry for you,” said Lakers head coach Darvin Ham after losing to the Rockets. “It doesn’t matter who’s in or out of the lineup, we have to come ready. The guys who are available and able to play, we have to come and do our best.”
And after suffering a stress reaction in his right foot and missing 20 games due to the injury, Davis clearly has the “better foot,” even if he has no soreness with the risk of re-injury being elevated in consecutive games.
But still, that strategy comes at a cost — and it’s a cost Western Conference teams seem willing to pay.
By emphasizing the potential of postseason health over regular season wins, teams like the Lakers, Clippers, and Mavericks are potentially sacrificing critical games in a crowded playoff race.
It’s not completely off the radar. At Friday’s team shootaround, Dennis Schroder told reporters that he had his eye on one specific spot-outside of the play-in tournament.
“I think we’re as a group now, the chemistry I think is in a perfect place,” said Schroder.
“Like I said, we just have to try to reach sixth place, that’s our goal and our wish. And then go from there.”
Still, number 6 would open the playoffs away from home.
Ham, who has more than 25 years of NBA experience as a player and coach, has seen a shift toward health become the most important thing for teams in the postseason.
“I don’t think it has completely changed, but I do think health takes precedence over [seeding]”, Ham said. “… And the playoffs, I don’t want to say it’s overrated, but you’re going to have to win away from home at some point to be world champions, so you just need to be solid, healthy, confident and playing at a good pace.
“And no matter where you play, you give yourself a chance. But just having the home court, I’ve seen teams multiple times, many, many postseasons have home court advantage and it doesn’t matter because they’ve given up those home games.”
This story originally appeared in the Los Angeles Times.