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With Anthony Davis out, are the Lakers in trouble? originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

Anthony Davis exited the Los Angeles Lakers’ 100-92 loss to the Phoenix Suns on Sunday with a groin injury. For LeBron James and the Lakers, that could prove to be doomsday news with the series now tied 2-2.

The No. 7-seeded Lakers are simply a different team with Davis off the floor. Even if LeBron James does LeBron James things, the Suns’ path to the second round gets exponentially easier without the Davis headache.

Davis exited the game at the tail end of the first half after landing awkwardly on an unsuccessful layup attempt. He went into the game struggling with a knee issue, which he played through in Game 3.

Phoenix was up 54-50 at the break Sunday, but with A.D. out, the Suns had their way with the Lakers in the second half. Los Angeles scored just 15 points in the third quarter off 3-of-16 shooting while conceding six turnovers. Five Suns players were in double figures by the end of the third.

The Lakers would make it interesting late in the fourth, cutting the lead to just seven at one point. Still, Davis’ absence was felt. Los Angeles coach Frank Vogel attempted to plug the hole left by Davis with Andre Drummond, Montrezl Harrell (playing for the first time since Game 1) and Marc Gasol.

Gasol performed well in a tough situation, hitting a few clutch threes while scoring 12 total points and eight rebounds. Other than that, the Lakers’ inside game fell flat.

“[Davis is] one of the best players in the world so you have to adjust, and I thought we gave great effort in trying to overcome that loss, but certainly it wasn’t enough,” Vogel said of Davis’ absence after the game. “Obviously a lot of [our offense] is through Bron. We played with a roller, with Drum, looked for a spark with Trez, we spaced the floor with Marc, and we just didn’t get enough offensive output in that second half.”

While LeBron James is unquestionably the best player on the Lakers, Davis might just be the most important. He has the same sort of effect defensively that Rudy Gobert does for Utah: they wreak havoc and cause players to panic when they drive the lane. Without actually defending the ball, Davis makes players not want to enter the lane, putting extra pressure on their jump shooting.

Phoenix’s Deandre Ayton scored 14 points and went +12 in Game 4. More importantly, he grabbed 17 boards, his quest made easier when he didn’t have Davis competing for rebounds with him. He will be the centerpiece for the Suns heading back to Phoenix for Game 5 should Davis not be well enough to play – if at all. 

Davis makes everyone’s job easier on the Lakers. His interior defense takes pressure off James and forces the Suns to rely more heavily on outside shooting. Offensively, he often draws double-teams and opens up the floor for Los Angeles. Take him out of the equation, and what happens? James has to be superman. He’s done it before, no doubt, but in his 18th year, it’d be a herculean task for him to completely make up for Davis’ output.

“The one thing you can’t predict is if one of your focal points goes down. Obviously, that was big for our team and being able to try to adjust on the fly after having a game plan was challenging for us,” James said. “More importantly, the health of A.D. is what’s most important for our ball club. If he’s not ready for Game 5, it’s gonna be a tough blow for our ball club, but next man up.”

James is having one of his worst postseasons numbers-wise. He’s averaging career playoff lows with 20.7 ppg and 5.7 rpg. Thing is, when Davis plays his best basketball, James doesn’t need to be the Lakers’ savior. That’s why Los Angeles won Games 2 and 3 — A.D. averaged 34 points and 10.5 rebounds during that span. Drummond, Harrell and Gasol can make up some of that ground, but certainly won’t have the same impact on the stat sheet that Davis has.

Lakers fans don’t need to panic with the series tied at two games apiece. They will be heavy favorites to close out the series at home if they can get to Game 6 up 3-2. But Davis may or may not play in Game 5 and that’s a problem. Without A.D. this season, the Lakers went 19-17, so all hope is not lost even if the star is kept out. But those 36 games were not all against the No.-2-seeded Suns. The only thing for sure is that if Davis doesn’t appear, the Game 5 on Tuesday will look a whole lot different.