As the Lakers left Los Angeles for Phoenix ahead of Game 5 on Tuesday night, they boarded their flight unsure whether Anthony Davis would be able to play in the biggest game of the playoff series.
Davis, who will be listed as questionable after an MRI examination confirmed a strained groin, is hanging on to the hope that he’ll improve between now and tipoff, but the Lakers have to be prepared for the possibility that Davis is going to miss at least one of the remaining games in the first round.
“We’re going to treat it overnight, do everything we can to get it feeling better and we’ll see where he’s at tomorrow,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said Monday.
Even if Davis is able to play, he’ll be in some diminished capacity. That’s bad news for the Lakers and their scuffling offense, one that’s been among the NBA’s worst this postseason.
While they’ve won twice on the backs of their primary shot creators — LeBron James, Dennis Schroder and Davis — they’re only scoring 105 points per 100 possessions. The good news is that Phoenix has been among the four teams that have been less efficient offensively during the playoffs.
The hope is the Lakers can draw on experience from earlier in the season when the team was forced to play without Davis. Following the All-Star break, the Lakers won four straight games with Davis sidelined before James suffered an ankle injury.
“Certainly our identity shifts if Anthony’s not in there, but it’s not unprecedented for us,” Vogel said. “We played a large chunk of our season without him, and hopefully we can grow on some of those experiences to see how we have to shift.”
Schroder said he thought the formula was there.
“We know what we have to do to compete in Game 5 and just go out there and give everything we have,” the point guard said.
The details were sparse on Monday on what exactly that means. The Lakers’ players and coaches have said the team will need better ball movement, more activity off the ball and cutting with purpose.
The Suns, in an effort to try to slow Schroder and limit center Andre Drummond’s rebounding, clogged the paint more effectively in Game 4.
“We’ve got to beat them with threes,” Schroder said.
The Lakers showed some life from beyond the three-point line on Sunday, but they have made the second-lowest number of three-point shots per game (9.3) on the second-worst shooting (29.1%).
If Davis isn’t able to play, Vogel wouldn’t say which direction he’d go with the starting lineup. He made a last-second decision to start the third quarter Sunday with Kyle Kuzma once he was told Davis was unable to play. Vogel also played Markieff Morris for just the second time in the series.
The Lakers still don’t know if Kentavious Caldwell-Pope will be able to return after sitting out Sunday because of a knee contusion. Caldwell-Pope was “close” to playing in Game 4, Vogel said, but he experienced some soreness when he was moving laterally. Caldwell-Pope went through a workout on Monday and said he felt better, though he’s unsure whether or not he’d be back for Game 5.
Either way, the biggest chunk of weight is going to fall onto James’ back, the team counting on him to deliver some magic while Davis gets healthy enough to play.
It’s happened before, the Lakers grateful for that experience now even if they wish they didn’t need to use it.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.