The Los Angeles Lakers’ quest to win the franchise’s record-tying 17th championship is off to a wildly encouraging start. Three weeks into the regular season, concerns about a redundant, aging roster not fit for the modern NBA have yielded way to praise for Los Angeles’ dominant interior defense, veteran savvy, and collective effort.
The Lakers sit atop the Western Conference standings at 8-2, and own the third-best net rating in basketball. If not favorites to win the Larry O’Brien Trophy, they’re among a small handful of teams whose title chances are rooted more in on-court performance than wide-eyed optimism.
But amid Los Angeles’ stirring victory over the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday night, the imminently tenuous nature of its status as a top-tier championship contender was revealed.
Anthony Davis left the Lakers’ win during the third quarter, retreating to the locker room for treatment on his ribs. Thankfully, further testing after the game indicated Davis had escaped serious injury.
He’s sitting out Los Angeles’ game against the Golden State Warriors on Wednesday night regardless, nursing both his ribs and the lingering shoulder injury that caused him to miss another game in October.
Making matters worse, Davis reluctantly suggested earlier this week that the injury to his right shoulder could prompt him to miss time going forward.
“Obviously, if it makes sense and then [the medical staff] give me reasons why, for the betterment of the team, then I guess we can go forward with [not playing],” he said, per ESPN’s Dave McMenamin .
Davis has been lucky to avoid the type of major injury that calls a player’s future into question. But just because he hasn’t torn his ACL or ruptured his Achilles doesn’t mean he’s been a bastion of health throughout his eight-year career.
No superstar in the league has suffered more minor injuries than Davis. He’s missed time due to a concussion, back spasms, sprained ankles, quad issues, toe problems, hip pain, groin soreness, and more. His 2016 season ended early due to a procedure on his left kneecap, and he spent the ensuing months rehabbing a torn left labrum.
Davis, clearly, is among the most fragile players in basketball. Every time he hits the floor hard, lands awkwardly, or takes a tough hit is cause for worry of another injury. The potential league-wide consequences of that possibility, at least until this season, have been muted. Playing for the Lakers alongside LeBron James instead of the New Orleans Pelicans, though, Davis is no longer just a personal favorite of NBA diehards, but one of the several players in basketball who most affect the championship picture.
It seems backward that a team featuring James would be lost without one of his teammates. But Davis is arguably the most impactful two-way player in basketball, leading Los Angeles to the NBA’s stingiest defense while soaking up possessions as a high-volume scorer. The Lakers have outscored opponents by 79 points with him on the court, and just seven points with him on the bench.
It’s not time for Los Angeles to panic, but it’s high time for Davis to start thinking big picture. This team has been all about effort and engagement in the season’s early going, and even the 34-year-old James has sworn off missing games to manage his body.
But Davis’ long-term health looms largest. The additional wins they could muster by him playing through pain are hardly worth the associated risk of an increased likelihood for further injury in the playoffs.
Achievements are measured by trophies in Los Angeles. And if the Lakers don’t exercise more caution, Davis’ mounting injury woes could be what keep them from raising another championship banner.