The glimpse the Lakers got of life without Davis in Game 4 of their playoff series against Phoenix after he was unable to play in the second half Sunday because of a strained groin was not a pretty sight.
If Davis can’t play in Game 5 on Tuesday in Phoenix, the Lakers will have to play with more purpose against a determined Suns team that just tied the best-of-seven series at 2-2 with a 100-92 win over Los Angeles at Staples Center.
Be prepared to hear the cliché from the Lakers of “next-man-up-mentality,” because it’s the cliché they used all season when Davis missed 36 games because of injuries.
Their spirits might have been dampened when the Lakers learned Davis was getting more testing on his groin after the game, but they had a strong belief in the group’s ability to get the job done if their second superstar can’t go.
“There is plenty of confidence that we have now without AD. That’s not even a question for anybody in the locker room,” Lakers reserve center Marc Gasol said after he produced 12 points, eight rebounds, three assists and three blocked shots in 23 minutes. “So, obviously you lose it in the moment of the game that can kind of get your mind off track a little bit for some people. It shouldn’t, though. I don’t know if that was the case, to be honest. I don’t know if that was with AD or without AD, but we just got to keep playing and that’s as simple as that.”
The Lakers went 19-17 in Davis’ absence this season, just barely holding down the fort.
This time, however, the season is on the line in the playoffs.
“Obviously, we played half the season without him. They also played extensive time without me,” said LeBron James, referring to his ankle injury. “We’d have to go back and look at what ways we were really good when he was out, and how we played. It would change our dynamic, obviously, of how we play. It would change our approach in how we play. We just have a game plan and go out and execute.”
The Lakers did not execute very well in the second half against the Suns after Davis went out.
They scored just 42 points. They made only 37.1% of their shots. They made just 26.7% of their three-point attempts.
If Davis doesn’t play Tuesday night, it means more responsibility for James.
“So, it’s just gonna be more opportunity for Bron and obviously we need more guys to step up,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “Not one other guy, but everybody. It’s gotta be a group effort. We need contributions from everyone, and we did have a stretch like this where we played without AD that we’ll draw on to take us into Game 5 if AD’s not available.”
Kyle Kuzma started in the second half in place of Davis, and he’ll be needed either way. Kuzma finished with 11 points and four rebounds.
When asked if this up-and-down season prepares the Lakers for a moment like this, Kuzma said, “a little bit of both.”
“Obviously, we’ve been derailed this year,” Kuzma said. “But at the same time, we’ve been through it. So, we just got to figure it out. Just got to figure it out.”
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.