During Game 4 of the series between the Los Angeles Lakers and the Phoenix Suns Sunday, you could feel the tide turning.
After a horrid Game 1 loss, the Lakers, and most importantly forward Anthony Davis, found their rhythm. They bounced back with two victories against the Suns that highlighted their size and depth on all fronts. It seemed like the Lakers would close out the series in five games.
You might wonder, after reading the headline of this column — what happened? Well, Anthony Davis and his laundry list of contusions and sprains and strains happened.
With about 48 seconds left in the first half, Davis drove toward the basket for a layup and landed awkwardly. He immediately grabbed the inside of his lower leg, a sign that his groin had been strained.
At that exact moment, my heart was pulled out of my chest, leaving me wondering if this season would be as successful as I imagined.
Before I dive into what this means for the Lakers, I do need to acknowledge Davis’ play.
At times, Davis is lethargic on the court, almost unwilling to even play basketball. Timid with the ball and forcing jumpers, he drives Lakers fans nuts and causes explosions in my group chat. Almost every time Davis has one of these games though, he responds in the next one with dominance.
It was Game 1 where Davis had one of those scary games — scoring only 13 points on 5/16 shooting. It was a disgusting display of basketball, but, like the great ones always do, he came back and dominated games two and three, dropping 34 in both.
He was simply the difference in those two wins.
This takes me back to that dreaded baseline drive for a layup in Game 4 when he pulled his groin. Davis was already hurting with a knee sprain and was listed as questionable going into Sunday’s game. He tested his knee in warm ups but was noticeably limping in the first half. He had just 6 points on 2/9 shooting before getting injured.
As he didn’t return after halftime, the roaring sounds in Staples Center went away, with the Lakers’ chances for back-to-back titles gone with them. The scrappy Suns took control of the game, and possibly the series too, running all over a depleted Lakers team hoping to catch a break.
With a Game 5 loss to the Suns, the Lakers season is all but done. They were simply destroyed on the court, and outside of LeBron, played as bad as possible. Even if they win Game 6, going back to Phoenix for Game 7 is not an ideal situation. The Lakers are capable of winning it, but it’s easier said than done.
The Suns simply deserve it more than the Lakers. They’ve been healthy all year and have a talented squad full of players looking to prove themselves. It’s a matchup nightmare for any team, but especially one without a player as good as Anthony Davis.
They were even in just a bit of trouble when he was healthy, now, though, it’s a California-sized problem.
It’s no secret that the Lakers need Davis to win another championship, but any team with LeBron James should have a chance, right?
If this was LeBron at age 34 and not 36, this column wouldn’t exist. The King would be able to carry them. But, he’s coming off a high ankle sprain that kept him out of half the season and an offseason that reached only 71 days — about half the time of USC’s spring semester.
You can never bet against LeBron, but if there was a time to do it, it’s now. We don’t know if James can put together a masterful performance to carry the Lakers into the next round. And it won’t just take LeBron, but a team effort with players like Dennis Schroder, Alex Caruso, Kyle Kuzma and Andre Drummond.
They have to step up, but will they?
The problem though is that this group has been as inconsistent as Los Angeles weather. One day they’re blistering hot, the next they’re frustratingly cold. And in the NBA, you can’t afford to have your role players play cooler than cool.
It puts the Lakers in a horrible position.
They might have enough to pull out a victory against the Suns, but in the ensuing rounds, it’ll be ugly.
In a season full of injuries that have derailed this talented team, we might never know the full potential of this squad. By the next time I write this column, the Lakers’ season might be long gone, but for now, they live to fight another day, even if they’re without their most talented soldier.
Anthony Gharib is a rising junior writing about all things Los Angeles sports. His column, “Anthony on LA,” runs every other Wednesday. He is also the sports editor for Summer Trojan.