CHICAGO – Amidst a poor start, the Lakers (16-14) insisted they could be contenders in full force.
But that timeline was pushed back even further, after Jaden McDaniels rolled into Anthony Davis’ left knee on Friday night.
The Lakers on Saturday announced a massive concussion shock for Davis, 28, who will miss at least four weeks (and may miss more) with an MCL sprain in his knee. The injury was confirmed the day he suffered an injury against the Minnesota Timberwolves after the team was able to have an MRI in Davis’ hometown of Chicago.
Not only will Davis miss an iconic matchup on Sunday against his childhood team the Bulls, but he will also miss a month into a quickly spoiled season for the Lakers, who have been battered by positive coronavirus tests over the past week .
Davis has averaged 23.3 points, 9.9 rebounds and 2 blocks per game in 27 games so far this season. He left the game in the second half, as he had already missed the first half with a bent right ankle that he tried to play. After missing half of last season’s games due to injury, Davis made it a point to work on his stability this season.
Soon after the injury occurred, Davis’ teammates seemed to think the injury might be a long-term concern. Russell Westbrook said: “Just praying, hoping for the best, and that’s all you can do.”
Coach Frank Vogel said Friday he felt for Davis, who has struggled to stay healthy throughout his career but doesn’t expect excuses from his group. The Lakers are 3–0 in the games that Davis missed outright, though they lost both games in which they were forced to leave early.
“You don’t like to see any of your players get injured, but we always think we have enough to win,” Vogel said. “So we’re not feeling sorry for ourselves, not finding excuses. And we have to move that mindset to Chicago.”
The Lakers are in a vulnerable position in the NBA standings, just half a game ahead of the play-in tournament spot in the West as of Saturday afternoon. Most of the conference is crowded: the fifth-place and 10th-place teams are separated by only four and a half games.
In this tightly packed group, the Lakers now have six players in the NBA’s COVID-19 protocol: Talen Horton-Tucker, Dwight Howard, Malik Monk, Avery Bradley, Austin Reeves and Kendrick Nunn. His available centers at the moment are DeAndre Jordan and two-way contract player Jay Huff. The Lakers have also played extensive minutes with LeBron James and Carmelo Anthony as two forwards, and Trevor Ariza is expected to start his season soon.
The NBA could clear the way for teams to sign 10-day contracts – like the team has already done for guard Isaiah Thomas – with the number of players stuck in COVID-19 protocols. Over 70 players have entered the protocol this month alone.
The result for the Lakers is that they are not the only ones facing such challenging availability situations.
Sunday’s lap will be the Bulls’ first game in a week after a two-game hiatus due to a protocol-related absence. DeMar DeRozan and Coby White were among the players who have now left Protocol, but five others – including Zach LaVine – are still trapped in them. A week before the Lakers’ anticipated Christmas Day game, the Brooklyn Nets have 10 players in protocol, including James Harden, Kevin Durant and Kyrie Irving.
The Lakers also have the advantage of a home-heavy schedule. When they returned from Chicago, they would play 10 of their next 14 matches in Los Angeles.