Anthony Davis is playing like his superstar self again. At the same time, he’s reminding everyone just how dangerous the Los Angeles Lakers can be.
Davis had 42 points and 12 rebounds and the Lakers never trailed in a 123-110 win over the Phoenix Suns on Sunday night.
“I feel good, man,” Davis said. “I’m getting my legs back, I’m getting my rhythm back. Getting my steps back on both ends of the floor, so feeling good. I’m getting better each game, getting my wind back each game. We’re headed in the right direction.”
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Alex Caruso each had 17 points and the short-handed Lakers won for just the third time in their past 11 games.
Playing without LeBron James, who missed his fourth straight game for Los Angeles because of a sprained right ankle, and Kyle Kuzma, held out because of tightness in his back, an energized Davis led the way for the defending NBA champions as they try to avoid the play-in tournament.
Davis set the tone with his one-handed alley-oop from Andre Drummond setting the tone as Los Angeles scored the first seven points. The Lakers led 30-19 after the first quarter, which left Suns coach Monty Williams worried about a recent trend of not being ready at the tip.
“Tonight they got into us,” Williams said. “We didn’t have great spacing, the ball didn’t move particularly well in the first quarter. But the reality is this is two games in a row where teams have come out with playoff intensity and we haven’t started games well.”
Cameron Payne had 24 points for the Suns, who have lost two of three following a five-game winning streak. Devin Booker added 21 points and Mikal Bridges 15.
Picking up where he left off after getting 36 points in a loss at Portland on Friday, Davis was the team’s centerpiece in a variety of ways. He attacked the rim, getting to the free-throw line 17 times. He found open shooters, getting five assists. He frustrated the Suns offense with sheer length, getting three steals and three blocked shots.
It was a game played with an aggressive mentality for Davis and the team.
“We had a lot of new pieces, so we’re trying to figure everything out and I think we’ve come along realizing we just play the right way,” Davis said. “Don’t hesitate, don’t think — just play. And we’ve been doing that the past couple games and that’s why we’ve been in every game and actually winning the game we won.”
“I think my mindset has changed, too. Be in attack mode. Earlier, I was looking at the bigger picture and get guys involved and let them get accustomed to our system, so my mindset of attack mode, attack mode was kind of off a little bit.”
It wasn’t until Los Angeles built its biggest advantage early in the fourth to go ahead by 23 that Phoenix found enough outside shooting to make a late charge. They were 5 for 10 from 3-point range in the fourth, but Payne said it was too big a deficit to overcome.
“We didn’t really start the game off with a sense of urgency, and the Lakers were comfortable the rest of the game,” Payne said. “Sometimes we’ve got to be the ones to send a message instead of the other team coming right in sending a message to us.”
The concept of sending a message was something the Suns brought up several times afterwards, knowing the Lakers could be their opponent in the first round of the playoffs.
Davis didn’t seem to be looking ahead when he cited winning without so many key players as a positive sign. But the intent to Phoenix, and the rest of the league, was there.
“At full strength, we know the team we can be,” Davis said. “We can only imagine when we get all our players back the team that we can be.”
READY TO ROLL?
Lakers coach Frank Vogel said James’ availability for the remainder of the regular season would be decided by how he felt going into each of their four remaining games. But Davis hinted that James will be ready for the postseason whether or not he plays before then.
“What I’ve seen from LeBron today, he’ll be fine,” Davis said. “Trust me. He’ll be fine.”
Davis became the first Laker with at least 42 points, 12 rebounds, five assists, three blocks and three steals in a game. Only six players in NBA history have had such a stat line, with Davis and Hakeem Olajuwon to do so multiple times.
Suns: Phoenix was 11 for 25 from 3-point range, with Bridges, Payne and Jae Crowder accounting for all but two makes. … Chris Paul had 13 points and 10 assists.
Lakers: Ben McLemore and Montrezl Harrell each had 12 points off the bench. … PG Dennis Schröder could return when the Lakers play at Indiana on Saturday or at New Orleans on Sunday to close out the regular season. Schröder has missed the past five games while in the league’s health and safety protocols.
Suns: At Golden State on Tuesday night.
Lakers: Host New York on Tuesday night.