Ultimately, it will be harder for the Lakers to follow that path, the one that everyone agrees has the best chance of leading the team to a successful season.
That he excels, once again playing at the level of a Most Valuable Player, is the surest path to relevance in the Western Conference.
And, for the third straight game, he got it Lakers anything they might need.
“We just locked in,” Davis said.
Davis came off the bench early in the fourth game with 30 points, 18 rebounds, three steals and a block. The Lakers were big — so big, in fact, that Vin Diesel felt comfortable enough to duck behind the Lakers bench to say hello.
Davis and James then jokingly challenged him to drive his car away from the Lakers’ home arena and do a somersault or something.
“If you’re as good as you say you are…,” Davis told the actor.
Indeed, for the first time this season, the Lakers looked completely comfortable throughout the game, with mental breakdowns occurring in the blink of an eye between long stretches of dominance.
The Lakers were 34 points better than San Antonio in Davis’ 28 minutes.
Just like he did in the wins against Brooklyn and DetroitDavis dominated at the rim, his presence making life easier for the Lakers’ perimeter players.
“AD has to be a leading force, a leading force just in terms of how we want to play basketball and beyond,” coach Darwin Hamm said after Friday’s win. “The pressure on the rim, the pressure in the paint is constant. … The most important thing is that we know we need to run AD. This gives us the best chance for success. Everyone in this locker room knows that – player, coach and others.”
It became clear again.
“He’s got to be the center,” Hamm said Sunday.
The message is easier to get across when James, one of the NBA’s greatest players, is out and Russell Westbrook is coming off the bench. And while James was listed as questionable on Sunday, it didn’t seem like much of a question before the Ham game.
“There is no need to rush him. He will definitely play a lot of games this season. It’s November,” Hamm said before the win. “… So it’s like time is on our side. …We just want to be as careful as possible. So, again, it doesn’t turn into something he’s been dealing with consistently all season.”
Davis has been fantastic without him. He made 45-of-77 shooting (58.4%), averaging 32.3 points and 16.5 rebounds over the last three games.
“It’s important to us,” Westbrook said. “Make it or miss it, when he’s aggressive in the paint, it makes us a different team.”
Austin Reaves scored 10-plus points for the fourth straight game after scoring a season-high 21 on Sunday against the Spurs.
“His confidence is very high right now,” Davis said.
Davis and Reeves were joined in double figures by Thomas Bryant, Lonnie Walker IV, Dennis Schroder, Kendrick Nunn and Westbrook.
Westbrook also had 10 assists. It’s his fourth straight game with at least 10 assists.
“He really brought a lot of balance to our lineup,” Hamm said.
Westbrook had a sprained right thumb after the game and will be reevaluated Monday morning, Hamm said. The Lakers later said X-rays Sunday night were negative.
The Spurs, who have one more win than the Lakers, looked woefully underpowered, held to 39% shooting by the Lakers and limited to 10 free-throw attempts.
Spurs coach Gregg Popovich spoke favorably of James, Hamm and his former player Walker before the game, but he was unable to coach due to illness.
The Lakers play the Suns on Tuesday in Phoenix, the first of a stretch in which the Lakers will play just six times in Los Angeles until the start of 2023.
“No matter what, we’ve just got to build,” Hamm said, “keep building winning habits.”