The Los Angeles Lakers’ season can be broken into stretches during which either LeBron James or Anthony Davis watched the games from the sidelines due to injuries.
James slid in and out of the lineup over the first 20 games of the 2021-22 campaign with a variety of issues. When the 37-year-old forward returned, Davis sprained the MCL in his knee in mid-December, ruling him out for over a month.
It only took one game after Davis’ comeback for James to reappear on the injury report. The four-time NBA champion has missed the last three matchups with knee irritation — and could miss more, as the swelling in his leg is yet to let up.
“It’s been a challenge,” head coach Frank Vogel said about the Lakers’ inability to have their two All-Stars play games together and its impact on the team’s defense.
“Our bigger lineups don’t have enough shooting to score well enough to win. It’s what we learned early in the season. We’re trying to play with the lineups that we have with more space offensively and hoping we can make improvements on the defensive side of the ball.
“The things that were hurting us we feel defensively are things that we can improve with better habits and better execution and better effort and disposition, which has been there times, but not enough. But ideally, we want to have the flexibility to play defensively bigger lineups against certain matchups and have a more set rotation of being smaller as much as the league is playing small.”
However, Vogel thinks the Lakers’ efforts to embrace centerless lineups with James playing at the five over the December games laid the groundwork for a system that Davis has been benefiting from upon his comeback.
“There’s some things that we adjusted during that stretch while [Davis] was out that hopefully, he will benefit from,” the head coach said.
“It seems like he’s benefited from it in the few games that he’s been back. I think it’s part of what we unlocked with Bron playing there. It just has the general theme of for our team with the personnel of this year’s team and Russ’ ability to get downhill and in the paint and what Bron and AD can do.
“Playing with a more open paint is something that stylistically we hope to benefit Anthony in.”
Davis wants Russell Westbrook to ‘stay in attack mode’ when Big 3 plays together
When the Lakers have their Big 3 together again, Davis hopes Russell Westbrook will maintain the aggressiveness and efficiency in his play — which he put on display during his 35-point performance in last week’s loss to the Charlotte Hornets.
“Just trying to get him to play out of the slot more, that’s where we was effective in Charlotte, he stayed in the slot and was able to attack and make the right reads,” Davis said.
“When he’s in the middle of the floor, you usually have two guys sitting right there on both of the elbows and now it’s tough for him to navigate, but when he’s in the slot, he’s able to just have one guy and then another guy on the shooter in the corner and it was effective in Charlotte.”
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