Hernández: Lakers can't afford to have Anthony Davis disappear in the LeBron limelight

LOS ANGELES, CA - MARCH 26: Anthony Davis #3 of the Los Angeles Lakers drives to the basket.
Lakers forward Anthony Davis puts up a shot during the Lakers' 118-108 loss to the Chicago Bulls at Crypto.com Arena on Sunday. Davis was limited to 15 points in the loss. (Adam Pantozzi / NBAE via Getty Images)
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LeBron James’ sudden return on Sunday was offset by the loss of the Lakers’ other superstar.

Anthony Davis went missing.

The player who carried the Lakers over their 13-game stretch without James was a complete non-factor in their 118-108 defeat to the Chicago Bulls at Crypto.com Arena.

Davis attempted just eight shots in a loss that ended the Lakers’ three-game winning streak, fewer than five other Lakers, including Malik Beasley and Troy Brown Jr.

With Davis limited to 15 points, little wonder the Lakers were down by 21 in the fourth quarter.

If the last four weeks showcased the best of Davis, Sunday displayed the worst, one of the league’s most dominant forces reverting to his more comfortable role as a passenger in a James-driven vehicle.

News of James’ return was sprung on Lakers players just hours before the midday contest — Davis said he learned of the possibility “when they said he was gonna warm up and see how it feels” — but that’s no excuse.

The Lakers are back under .500. They can’t afford to have him vanish the way he did against the Bulls, whom they play again on Wednesday in Chicago.

Davis explained he was simply taking what the Bulls were giving him.

“We knew they were gonna start doubling on the post,” he said. “At times, they didn’t, and I was able to score. At times, they did, and I was able to swing it to a guy for an open three, or swing-swing to a guy for an open three.

“They’re a pack-the-paint team, so even on a pick-and-roll and we’re rolling, the pocket is not there. They have five guys in the paint.”

Davis pointed to how few points the Bulls allow in the paint (fourth fewest in the NBA) and how many three-pointers they give up (third most).

Similar observations were made by coach Darvin Ham, who went as far to praise Davis for passing instead of taking on multiple defenders at once.

“He’s not one of those selfish guys,” Ham said. “He’s going to make the right basketball play.”

Ham also pointed to the Lakers’ 18 turnovers as a factor.

“Maybe a few of those turnovers could have been field-goal attempts if we secure and take care of the ball,” Ham said.

Here’s the problem: A few more shots still isn’t enough.

Chicago Bulls forward Derrick Jones Jr. reacts after making a three-point basket in front of Lakers forward Anthony Davis.
Chicago Bulls forward Derrick Jones Jr. reacts after making a three-point basket in front of Lakers forward Anthony Davis in the second half Sunday. (Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

Davis has to be more selfish sometimes. And he can be, evidenced by the four games in which he scored 35 or more points in James’ absence over the previous month.

Asked about a hypothetical scenario in which the Lakers encounter another pack-the-paint defense, Davis said it was his responsibility to “find other ways to get the ball.”

Whatever his shortcomings, Davis has never evaded accountability. He wasn’t about to start now.

That’s an absolute necessity as the Lakers try to go from being a team that is playing well under difficult circumstances to a team that can contend for a championship.

The Lakers developed an identity that was independent of James while he was injured. When James rejoined them on Sunday, they looked as if they were uncertain of who they are, just as they had before general manager Rob Pelinka reconfigured their roster before the trade deadline.

“We weren’t aggressive enough, physical enough,” Ham said.

They now have to rediscover those qualities that inspired their 8-5 run without James and made James believe they could do something special in the playoffs if he returned.

“Definitely want to be a part of it,” James said.

Asked if anything could be done to ensure he and James are simultaneously peaking in the playoffs, Davis replied, “There’s no trick. It’s us coming out and playing Lakers basketball. It’s not a two-man show. We got other guys who can make our jobs easier, when guys are making shots and we’re playing off fast-break points and not taking the ball out of the net the entire time. Then we’re able to flourish, both of us.”

Davis was right — to a degree.

The other players can make Davis’ and James’ jobs easier by, say, consistently hitting from the outside. But the opposite of that is also true: Davis and James can make the other players’ jobs easier too.

Davis has to embrace that burden, especially now that his team has started the awkward but potentially rewarding process of integrating an all-time great into a relatively new team. Davis can be the backbone of this project. He’s certainly gifted enough to be.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.