Even though they had to get through the play-in tournament, the Los Angeles Lakers entered the playoffs as one of the favorites to win the 2021 NBA title. Now, after a blowout loss to the Phoenix Suns in Game 5 on Tuesday night, the defending champs are down 3-2 in their first-round series, and on the brink of elimination.
While they still have LeBron James on their side, the nature of their Game 5 defeat makes it hard to have much confidence in a Lakers comeback, especially if Anthony Davis remains sidelined. He left Game 4 early after straining his groin, and hasn’t played since. It’s unclear if he’ll be ready for Game 6 on Thursday, and as of now he’s listed as questionable.
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If it’s up to Davis, he’ll be on the court, but it remains to be seen how his body will respond to rest and treatment. He tried to force his way into the lineup for Game 5, but was denied by the Lakers’ medical staff after his pre-game workout went poorly. Even LeBron James told him not to rush back too quickly, according to Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports.
Davis told teammates he was going to push to play in Game 5, league sources told Yahoo Sports. LeBron James encouraged Davis not to rush it, noting the personal bout he had with the same injury, sources said.
During the 2018-19 season, LeBron suffered a groin injury on Christmas against the Warriors, and was initially listed as day-to-day. However, he ended up missing over a month with the injury, which at the time was the longest he’d been sidelined in his entire career. There’s no doubt he had that memory in his head when talking things over with Davis.
The Lakers obviously don’t have the luxury of giving Davis a month off right now, but it’s still wise for them to think big picture. Davis wouldn’t have been much help if he rushed back for Game 5, and in the process he could have easily made the injury worse. At the very least, playing again right away would have likely left him diminished for the rest of the series. Holding him out means he’ll have four full days of rest before Thursday’s Game 6, and a chance to provide a more meaningful performance if he’s able to suit up.
And even beyond this season, the Lakers are set up to be contenders for a while with Davis and LeBron leading the way. But only if they’re healthy. Both players have had injury problems this season, and Davis in particular hasn’t been the most durable player throughout his career. No one wants to get bounced early from the playoffs, but it would be better than seeing Davis suffer a major injury from trying to come back too early.