NBA Playoffs: If Anthony Davis Can Outduel Denver’s Nikola Jokic, LeBron May Pass Him That Torch

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Get ready, Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal, Los Angeles Lakers’ center Anthony Davis may have the last laugh.

Sure, it turns out Davis needed that wheelchair late in game five of the Golden State series not much more than Ricky Bobby in Talladega Nights, and you two had your laugh in postgame. Barkley even mimicked pushing the wheels at his side, saying he was “fixing his chair” on the set.

Davis did feel woozy after a glancing blow from Warrior Kevon Looney, but he was not concussed. He wasn’t hit nearly as hard as, say, Drew Barrymore’s Lindsay Meeks, who took a foul ball to the head in “Fever Pitch.” The Lakers were just being overly careful with the oft-injured Davis, and he is the would-be franchise at 30.

LeBron James, 38, is nearing the end, and the Lakers-Denver Nuggets Western Conference finals of the NBA Playoffs could be the perfect time for the torch trade. Especially if Davis can man up against Denver’s 6-foot-11, 284-pound brute Nikola Jokic, who is favored to “push” Davis around.

Lakers-Nuggets Open Western Conference Finals Tuesday

The opener is Tuesday night at Ball Arena (8:30 p.m., ESPN) in Denver.

The No. 1 seed Nuggets are favored to beat the No. 7 seed Lakers, who had to win a play-in game just make the dance. Denver is 6-0 in the postseason and 40-7 overall this season for the NBA’s best home record and their first top seed. No. 8 seed Miami plays at No. 2 seed Boston in the Eastern Conference finals Wednesday (8:30 p.m., TNT).

If Davis plays well and more importantly, hard, throughout, the Lakers will advance and Davis will be the man like Shaq before him. And before this season, and even last month, word in Los Angeles was Davis was a short-term Laker. His contract has two years left with an early option to end it. He can become a free agent in 2024 or ’25.

Other than the “wheelchair incident,” Davis performed like a franchise player against Golden State for the most part and was the main reason the No. 7 seed Lakers beat the 6 seed in six games. So, he’s the next Kareem again, right?

“If motivated, he’ll get this every game,” Barkley said after Davis scored 30 with 23 rebounds in 44 minutes of a 117-112 win at Golden State in that opener. He hit 11 of 19 shots and 8-of-8 free throws while adding five assists and four blocked shots.

Shaq was not laughing. Neither was Barkley.

In that game, Davis became the first Laker in the playoffs to score 30 or more with 20 rebounds or more since O’Neal had 44 and 20 against Philadelphia in the 2001 NBA Finals opener. The Lakers won their second of three straight titles that year with Shaq and Kobe Bryant. Davis became just the fifth Laker to do that in 60 years – O’Neal (10), Elgin Baylor and Wilt Chamberlain (five apiece) and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (two).

Anthony Davis Sometimes Looks Like Ben Simmons

But in the next game, Davis dipped to a meager 11 points with seven rebounds in 33 minutes with four turnovers. A big man (6-10, 253 pounds) inexplicably staying away and/or being kept out of the paint, he shot one free throw. The Lakers lost 127-100. That in microcosm is Davis’ pro career.

You can often tell when he’s taking whole segments of games off. He looks as motivated as the horrid Ben Simmons. He did the same thing in New Orleans. Call it a detached cool.

In game three in Los Angeles, though, Davis returned with 25 points and 13 rebounds in 33 minutes and 11-of-12 free throw shooting with four blocked shots, three steals and three assists in a 104-101 win. The Lakers won the next one, too, easy, 127-97, as Davis put up 23 and 15 rebounds in 43 minutes. In the wheelchair game, he had only nine rebounds with 23 points in 32 minutes. And the Lakers were flat in a 127-100 loss.

L.A. won 117-112 to win the series as Davis reached double-digit free throws for just the second time in the series, making 7 of 10 while scoring 17 with 20 rebounds.

When Davis decides not to be Simmons soft, he is elite. Funny, if Davis could play more at times with Zion Williamson’s hair-on-fire passion, he could be legendary.

New Orleans’ Williamson, if he ever starts playing regularly, is on pace to become one of the greatest points-per-minute players in NBA history as he is currently at .805. And if Williamson loses a lot of weight and plays more relaxed at times for the long haul, you know like Davis, he might make it through a whole season.

Denver Lacks L.A. Star Power

But mainly, Davis needs to get tougher, especially with Jokic and better defenders than Golden State had waiting in Denver. He needs to play more representative of the hard, south side Chicago neighborhood he is from – Englewood – and not a nice Orange County suburb.

If he does, the Lakers will prove to be the 2-to-1 favorite over Denver. Because L.A. will have two stars – AD and LeBron – to one for Denver – Nikola. That usually wins this time of year and has won in the past for the Lakers.

Denver also has that inferiority complex whether it admits it or not. Los Angeles has defeated Denver in all seven previous series in the NBA Playoffs with five of those leading to NBA titles.

Written by Glenn Guilbeau

Guilbeau joined OutKick as an SEC columnist in September of 2021 after covering LSU and the Saints for 17 years at USA TODAY Louisiana. He has been a national columnist/feature writer since the summer of 2022, covering college football, basketball and baseball with some NFL, NBA, MLB, TV and Movies and general assignment, including hot dog taste tests.

A New Orleans native and Mizzou graduate, he has consistently won Associated Press Sports Editors (APSE) and Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) awards since covering Alabama and Auburn at the Mobile Press-Register (1993-98) and LSU and the Saints at the Baton Rouge Advocate (1998-2004). In 2021, Guilbeau won an FWAA 1st for a game feature, placed in APSE Beat Writing, Breaking News and Explanatory, and won Beat Writer of the Year from the Louisiana Sports Writers Association (LSWA). He won an FWAA columnist 1st in 2017 and was FWAA's top overall winner in 2016 with 1st in game story, 2nd in columns, and features honorable mention.

Guilbeau completed a book in 2022 about LSU's five-time national champion coach - "Everything Matters In Baseball: The Skip Bertman Story" - that is available at, and Barnes & Noble outlets. He lives in Baton Rouge with his wife, the former Michelle Millhollon of Thibodaux who previously covered politics for the Baton Rouge Advocate and is a communications director.


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