Lakers overcome Anthony Davis’ injury exit, beat Nuggets

Lakers overcome Anthony Davis’ injury exit, beat Nuggets

LOS ANGELES — The start of the second half featured a concerning moment for Lakers fans everywhere: Anthony Davis didn’t come back out on the court.

Teammates, coaches and team officials have tied the success of the franchise to Davis’ high performance and good health – which has been seen too infrequently over the past two years. Davis sitting out the second half Friday night against the Denver Nuggets with a right foot injury struck as an ill omen.

Except something funny happened: It didn’t slow down the Lakers.

LeBron James and Russell Westbrook, the two stars who have often seemed like a clunky on-court fit, powered a surprising 126-108 victory against the Nuggets, the third-place team in the Western Conference. After two disappointing overtime losses in their previous three games against high-level opponents, the Lakers (12-16) came out hungry and hustling, in spite of a size advantage that never really became an issue.

Westbrook was the engine of a third- and fourth-quarter surge – similar to the one that fell just short against Boston on Tuesday – muscling his way to his second triple-double of the season with 15 points, 12 assists and 11 rebounds. His two-man chemistry with Thomas Bryant, who scored a season-high 21 points on 9-for-11 shooting, helped cover for the absence of Davis, who has been one of the league’s best scorers for the past month.

While there has been plenty of anxiety for a team that has given up double-digit fourth-quarter leads more than once this season, James helped bury the Nuggets with a late scoring spurt and by playing center himself. The 37-year-old scored eight of his 30 points in the fourth, all during a two-minute span and finishing with a layup that gave his Lakers an 18-point edge with 3½ minutes remaining.

Speed helped win the day for L.A.: The Lakers scored 28 fast-break points and made the Nuggets pay for their 19 turnovers. There was also a surprising amount of balance: Seven Lakers scored in double figures, which has not been the case for much of the season.

Davis’ tweak occurred roughly five minutes into the game: As Davis drove the baseline for a reverse layup against back-to-back league MVP Nikola Jokic (25 points, 11 rebounds, eight assists), his foot appeared to collide awkwardly with Jokic’s leg. Davis almost immediately started limping and grimacing with each step, but he didn’t sub out immediately and even scored six more points during his shift.

By the second quarter, Davis seemed off: In eight minutes, he took only one shot (a miss), had one rebound, one assist and two turnovers. On defense, he seemed overwhelmed against Jokic and Aaron Gordon, who helped Denver score 56 points in the paint. Bryant came out to start the second half, ending Davis’ night.

The game was largely back-and-forth in the first quarter, with the spotlight on the Jokic-Davis matchup. Both big men had 10 points in the opening frame, portending another strong matchup between centers who have been linked since the Lakers’ triumphant 2020 Western Conference finals series.

At the moment when the Lakers seemed to be taking control, their Nugget offense suddenly put together a run. Denver called timeout after a James 3-pointer gave the hosts a nine-point lead. From there, the Nuggets reeled off a 20-2 run that spanned five minutes, powered by eight Lakers misses and four turnovers.

Austin Reaves finally snapped the cold streak on a feed from Davis … then kept going. The second-year wing went on a one-man tear of 10 straight points for the Lakers, twice going to the free-throw line as the crowd showered him with cheeky “M-V-P” chants. James tacked on six straight points of his own – punctuated with a running dunk – to pull the Lakers to within a point at halftime.

More to come on this story.