As the lakers left Los Angeles for Phoenix before Game 5 on Tuesday night, they boarded their flight not knowing if Anthony Davis would be able to play in the biggest game of the playoffs.
Davis, who will be listed as questionable after an MRI scan confirmed a strained groin, clings to hopes he will improve by the time kick-off, but the Lakers must be prepared for the possibility that Davis misses at least one of the remaining games of the first round.
“We’re going to deal with him overnight, do everything we can to make him feel better and see where he is tomorrow,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said on Monday.
Even though Davis is able to play, he will have reduced ability. This is bad news for the Lakers and their brawl attack, one of the worst in the NBA in the playoffs.
Although they’ve won twice on the backs of their main punchers – LeBron James, Dennis Schroder and Davis – they only score 105 points per 100 possessions. The good news is that Phoenix is one of four teams that were less effective offensively in the playoffs.
The hope is that the Lakers can build on the experience of the start of the season when the team was forced to play without Davis. After the All-Star break, the Lakers won four straight games with Davis sidelined before James injured his ankle.
“Certainly our identity changes if Anthony is not there, but it is not without precedent for us,” said Vogel. “We’ve played a lot of our season without him, and hopefully we can grow on some of those experiences to see how we need to change.”
Schroder said he thought the formula was there.
“We know what we have to do to be in Game 5 and just go out there and give it all we have,” said the point guard.
Details were sparse on Monday on what exactly that meant. Lakers players and coaches said the team would need better ball movement, more activity on the ball and a targeted cut.
The Suns, in an attempt to slow Schroder down and limit the rebound from center Andre Drummond, clogged the paint more effectively in Game 4.
“We have to beat them with three,” Schroder said.
The Lakers showed some life beyond the three-point line on Sunday, but they had the second lowest three-pointers per game (9.3) on the second-worst shot (29.1% ).
If Davis isn’t able to play, Vogel wouldn’t say which way he’ll go with the starting lineup. He made a last-second decision to start the third quarter on Sunday with Kyle Kuzma once he was told Davis was unable to play. Vogel also played Markieff Morris for the second time in the series.
The Lakers are still unsure whether Kentavious Caldwell-Pope will be able to return after sitting on Sunday with a bruised knee. Caldwell-Pope was “close” to playing in Game 4, Vogel said, but felt some pain as he moved sideways. Caldwell-Pope trained on Monday and said he was feeling better, although he was not sure whether or not he would be back for Game 5.
Either way, the biggest piece of weight goes fall on james back, the team is counting on him to provide some magic while Davis is healthy enough to play.
It’s happened before, the Lakers are grateful for the experience now, even though they wish they didn’t need to use it.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.