LOS ANGELES — Anthony Davis was ruled from the second half of Thursday night’s 118-94 loss to the LA Clippers due to back spasms, providing the Los Angeles Lakers two stars — combined with LeBron James — who left his return from a long-term injury simply to go back on the mend with the normal season quickly slipping away.
The loss, their seventh in the previous nine matches, dropped the Lakers into 37-29, equal to the Portland Trail Blazers, whom L.A. performs on Friday.
The Lakers are seeded No. 6, ahead of Portland, which now occupies a play-in tournament slot in No. 7, even though the teams are 1-1 in their season series so far. L.A. has the tiebreaker edge because it has a far better record versus Western Conference opponents.
Davis, playing in his eighth game since lost nine weeks because of a calf strain and Achilles tendinosis in his right leg, played nine minutes in the first quarter and scored four points on 2-for-9 shooting with a single rebound.
Davis left the match with two minutes, 50 seconds remaining in the first quarter and did not return. He was assessed by group medical staff throughout the second quarter before the group declared shortly following the third quarter started that he wouldn’t return.
Davis tweaked his right ankle after backpedaling to a video board on the sideline following a 3-point effort in the first quarter, but he said the real issue was his back.
“The trunk locked up pretty awful,” he said.
Davis said he hopes to play against the Blazers in what he dubbed”likely the largest game” out of the six dates staying on the Lakers’ regular-season schedule.
“I think we’ve only got to win the game, for real, for real,” Lakers ahead Kyle Kuzma said.
Even with Davis in the lineup, L.A. will be undermanned against a hot Blazers team coming off a 5-1 road trip that culminated with a 36-point triumph in Cleveland on Wednesday. Dennis Schroder is out for another week due to the league’s wellbeing and safety protocols. Talen Horton-Tucker has also been ruled out with a calf strain.
And then there’s James, L.A.’s four-time Finals MVP, who won’t even be making the trip.
James played two matches last week after returning from a high right ankle sprain before needing to leave the lineup the past two matches to continue his rehab. Lakers coach Frank Vogel stated James would miss the Blazers game, at a minimum.
James wasn’t on the bench Thursday night or to get Monday’s win against the Denver Nuggets. When Vogel was requested if James’ absence was medically related, ” he replied succinctly,”No.” If a second reporter followed up, asking why James was not current, Vogel said,”He’s just not here,” before mentioning that James did accompany the group at Thursday’s shootaround.
Both of James’ absences were believed to be excused from the Lakers allowing James time to”keep away from the ankle,” a source with knowledge of the situation told ESPN.
A loss on Friday would place the Lakers from the No. 7 spot, a full game behind Portland with only five matches left to playwith. L.A.’s other few matches — New York, Indiana and New Orleans — have a mixed record of 98-100 (.495). Portland’s other three opponents — San Antonio, Utah and Denver — have a combined record of 123-74 (.624).
Davis originally went as far as to state that the Lakers may utilize the play-in tournament.
“I meanwe don’t consider it as something bad,” Davis stated. “To be honest, we are in need of a lot of games. We are in need of games to get back used to one another, anyway.”
At another breath, however, he walked his remarks somewhat.
“Obviously, we don’t wish to go that path,” he explained. “But when it happens, it happens. We’re gonna win matches at the play-in and get ready for whoever we perform in the initial round and take care of business from that point. So, we look at it as game reps from the play-in. And if not, we then got a little bit more training time to get used to one another. So, either way, we are fine either way”
Markieff Morris didn’t need to entertain the notion.
“I believe I have said before, we wasn’t considering the damn play-in match,” Morris explained. “When it happens, it happens. If we are healthy, so –, I would want to avoid us if I was the top two groups.”
If the Lakers complete the regular season seeded No. 7 or No. 8, then they will be guaranteed at least two games in the play-in tournament, needing to win one to qualify for the first round of the playoffs.
The Nos. 8 and 7 teams face off and the teams seeded Nos. 9 and 10 will also play. The winner of the 7-8 game progresses to the first round, and the loser of that game plays the winner of the 9-10 game to determine the final playoff berth in each conference.
“The play-in tournament is outside of my hands,” Vogel said Thursday. “If we are in it, we will compete and we are going to win these games so that we can try to advance. Whether we ought to have one or not is really not up to me personally. I don’t spend too much time or thought on whether it is good or not.”