Lakers vs Heat: Anthony Davis’ high game with LeBron James on the bench turned LA into a juggernaut

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Miami Heat legend Dwyane Wade made headlines recently with Agree with retired gamer turned TV analyst Kendrick Perkins that Anthony Davis complements LeBron James better than any teammate in LeBron’s career – which of course includes Kyrie Irving, Kevin Love, Chris Bosh and Wade himself. While that may be true, what really took Davis’ play to another level in the playoffs were the minutes that LeBron was on the bench.

Despite Davis’ tremendous regular season – 26.1 points, 9.3 rebounds and 2.3 blocks per game playing the All-NBA first-team defense – the Lakers just weren’t very good when he led the team without LeBron on the ground. The Lakers had a net minus-3 rating in 677 minutes during the regular season while Davis was on the ground without James, according to NBA.com, the offense dropping 111.2 points per 100 possessions to 106.4 with Davis as the main offensive force. .

These numbers were used as evidence in LeBron’s MVP campaign (he finished second and was not happy with the vote), and has caused some to question the Lakers’ cap if their offense required 35-year-old James to be on the court to succeed.

This script, however, completely rocked in the playoffs.

The Lakers don’t just dominate with their top two players on the court together. They dominate even when James is on the bench, and it has everything to do with Davis’ tremendous offensive performance. In a playoff series that included his first-ever Western Conference Finals and NBA Finals appearances, Davis is averaging 29.3 points per game, the team’s best, while shooting 58% ground. He’s been nearly unstoppable for stretches, including a 14-on-15 start en route to 32 points, 14 rebounds (eight offensives) on a 15-on-20 shot in the Lakers’ Game 2 win 124-114 against the Heat Friday.

“I’ve been playing with AD for a few years now and expect him to get 50 every night,” Lakers goaltender Rajon Rondo said after Game 2. “I can take it for granted that I play with a guy like that that is so efficient, shooting 99% from the free throw line, take a big shot on the ground and put the ball in the basket. He is so versatile. He’s about to play like the best player in the game. Hands down. ”

With LeBron on the bench in the playoffs, the Lakers have a net plus-9.5 and virtually the same offensive rating (117.5) as LeBron on the court – a huge turnaround from the regular season. Yes, it has a lot to do with Lakers coach Frank Vogel determining rotations, actors stepping up and re-emergence of Playoff Rondo forming his cocoon, but Davis has also been much more comfortable in taking on his role. main offensive role. threat.

It’s not even his fair score – he can score in his sleep – but his efficiency has exploded. During the regular season, Davis had an effective field goal percentage of 54.7% with LeBron on the bench, up from 62.6 during the playoffs. The increase in efficiency was supported by unprecedented prowess in the midrange – Davis made 35% of his jumpers in the midrange during the regular season and during the playoffs, which soared to 50.5%. It’s an indication of Davis’s confidence and comfort during the playoffs, which increased his aggression on the attacking side of the field.

“When AD plays aggressively, it gets us going. Be it aggressive in dribbling, aggressive catch and shoot, aggressive on the boards, aggressive in defense, ”said Lakers goaltender Alex Caruso after Game 2.“ He’s one of the unstoppable players in the league. I love watching him because I know he’s unstoppable when he wants to. ”

Part of that aggression comes from dealing with doubles teams, which come more freely when James is on the bench. Davis is a lot more balanced than he was during the regular season, patient when needed but also not overthinking things to the detriment. Miami mainly played the zone when LeBron was on the bench in Game 2, but watch in this clip from Game 1 as Davis patiently watches the pitch from the post, makes his move, waits for the double team and makes a single pass from kick-out to Markieff Morris for a 3-point wide open.

These are basic things, but our own Sam Quinn detailed how Davis’ improved passes allowed the Lakers to generate a bench attack at a more consistent pace. Against the zone on Friday, he moved away from the ball to keep defenders away from shooters for wide open looks. Watch Davis blink in the middle, pulling heat keeper Kendrick Nunn away from Caruso, who buries the 3-pointer.

“Obviously defensively he’s a unicorn, in my opinion, defensive player of the year,” Vogel said after Game 2. “But his shot, the many ways he can hurt you offensively in the post, throwing to the basket, working the baseline like he did against the zone, working down the middle, shooting 3s from the perimeter is just very unique, and you can just see his determination to win this championship on both sides of the ball, but I thought tonight you were seeing more of the offensive end. ”

Davis stepped up in so many ways in the playoffs, but his biggest impact on the Lakers, who are two wins away from the NBA title, could elevate his game to keep the offense dominant even when LeBron James is on the bench.

“His mindset is that he wants to be a champion,” Vogel said. “He’s extremely motivated to play at a high level and you see him every time he walks on the floor. “

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