Kyle Kuzma was asked about the possibility of Anthony Davis playing Thursday in Dallas. He grinned and said, "His ass better play, he's been out all season long."
— Bill Oram (@billoram) April 20, 2021
Davis last played in a game on Valentine’s Day, having missed 30 games with a strained calf and Achilles tendinosis (the kind of injury the Lakers needed to be extremely cautious with). Davis has been close to a return, and Lakers coach Frank Vogel said Monday the All-NBA big man has been focused on getting his conditioning up for a return. Via Dave McMenamin of ESPN:
“The biggest thing is conditioning right now,” Vogel said. “He’s healthy. But having not played and not really being able to ramp up his physical on-court activity over the last two months, it’s going to take some time before he gets his wind under him and obviously, that’s the biggest thing. Because if his legs aren’t under him, we don’t want him to be at risk for re-aggravation of the injury or another injury. We want to keep a close eye on that.”
That caution is why Davis is going to have a minutes limit — likely around 15 minutes a night — when he first returns to the court, whether that is Thursday against Luka Doncic or later.
It’s going to be later for LeBron James, who remains out with a high ankle sprain, who remains weeks away, reports McMenamin.
The Lakers reserves have held down the fort, going 7-8 without LeBron or Davis in the lineup after a loss to the Jazz on Monday. Los Angeles appears headed for the five seed in the West (and a first-round showdown with Denver), although that is still fluid.
The biggest question in the West is simply, “how healthy will the Lakers be in the playoffs?” If LeBron and Davis are back, close to 100%, and their legs feel rested after this time off, then the Lakers will set a bar in the West that no other team in the conference may be able to clear. This team is the defending champions for good reason.
But this is also a better West than the Lakers got out of in the bubble — Utah is better, the Clippers are getting healthy and playing better, and Chris Paul has made Phoenix look like a real threat. Look at it this way, Damian Lillard and Luka Doncic lead the six and seven seeds in the West, and by the time the play-in games are over the eighth seed could be led by Stephen Curry. There are no easy series in the West; the Lakers will have to run the gauntlet to get back to the Finals.
The Lakers need to be healthy to do that. Thursday night they could take a big step in that direction.