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Plaschke: Lakers finishing with headache, nausea and dimming hopes


Headache. Nausea.

The two words were uttered Tuesday night to describe the condition of a certain Laker.

The two words could also describe the reaction of their fans.

Headache. Nausea.

In the final hours before tipoff against the Golden State Warriors on Tuesday night at Arena, the Lakers announced that Anthony Davis was going to miss the game because of a headache and nausea.

Davis is their most important player. This was going to be, thus far, their most important game.

It was an absence of monumental proportions. It became a loss of dreadful ramifications.

The Warriors’ 134-120 victory was thus defined by the symptoms that scuttled the mission.

The two words have placed the season on a tightrope.

Headache. Nausea.

The Lakers now enter their final two games precariously balancing above disaster, needing to win on the road at Memphis and New Orleans while hoping for help to avoid ending as the 10th seed.

The 10th seed is the death seed. The Lakers finish there, they’re probably finished, because that means they’ll have to win two road games in the play-in tournament to qualify for the first round of the playoffs.

Does anybody believe they could actually do that?

Win two do-or-die games for a team that suddenly feels like it’s already half-dead? Survive two must-win games for a team that just blew two must-win games because their two fragile stars couldn’t get on the court?

On Sunday, they lost to Minnesota after LeBron James missed the game because of flu-like symptoms and Davis exited in the first quarter after he was socked in the left eye.

On Tuesday, James returned to score 33 points, but this time it was Davis who didn’t play while suffering from what were apparently another set of flu-like symptoms.

Because he had been hit in the eye Sunday, it was natural to wonder whether the headache and nausea were caused by a concussion, but the Lakers insisted he was not in the concussion protocol.

So, apparently, he was sick.

Yeah, everyone knows what everyone is thinking, but let’s briefly push pause on the cynicism.

Without more detailed information, it feels unfair to immediately diagnose this as yet another case of “AD Frailty.” This has, after all, been the season when Davis has overcome the injury stigma, the season when he’s finally been tough enough.

Before Tuesday, Davis had played in 74 of 79 games, his most as a Lakers and on pace to be his most games ever (he played in 75 games in back-to-back seasons with New Orleans). He’s played with a nagging hip. He’s played with all sorts of bumps and bruises. He’s played hard and he’s played hurt.

And besides, nobody questioned James when he was sick with what might have been the same flu bug on Sunday, right?

But, still …

Lakers guard Spencer Dinwiddie leaps along the baseline to make a pass during the game against the Warriors on Tuesday.

Lakers guard Spencer Dinwiddie leaps along the baseline to make a pass during the game against the Warriors on Tuesday.

(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Davis can’t escape his past, and while it might not be fair, he will probably not be able to elude the perception that he should have tried to play.

The is only thing for certain: When Davis doesn’t play, the Lakers are a vastly different team … a noticeably worse team … a losing team.

“It’s almost pretty much impossible to make up for what he provides for our ballclub, both offensively and defensively,” said James.

On Tuesday, the Lakers’ task was, well, almost pretty much impossible.

Offensively, Rui Hachimura and D’Angelo Russell were required to have big games, and didn’t, combining to go 10-for-32.

Yet defensively is where Davis’ loss was truly felt, as the Lakers had to sag toward the middle to compensate for his gaping absence, thus leaving the Warriors free to essentially play the game from the three-point line.

And goodness, did they ever, making 26 treys, the most ever allowed by the Lakers. The Warriors sank them on 41 tries, a 63.4% clip, the highest shooting percentage in a game with as many as 26 three-point attempts in NBA history.

You’ll never guess who went five-for-five shooting on three-point attempts in the first half alone. Yeah, one Draymond Green.

“They were blazing hot,” said Lakers coach Darvin Ham. “Blazing, blazing hot.”

Green told reporters it was more than the presence of heat. It was the absence of Davis.

“It’s different when it’s AD out there,” he said. “He can cover up so many mistakes. It’s a totally different look for them when he’s out there.”

Will Davis return in time for Friday’s seemingly gimme game against the injury-racked Memphis Grizzlies? If he’s truly suffering from the flu and not feeling side effects from Sunday’s whack in the head, one would assume he’d be back.

But even if they beat Memphis, they’ll have to win again in the season finale Sunday in New Orleans against a Pelicans team that is fighting for a sixth seed.

And let’s say the Lakers win both games. They’re still not assured of avoiding the play-in basement, as surging Golden State would tie them with wins against Portland, New Orleans and Utah.

And by virtue of their 3-1 head-to-head record against the Lakers, the Warriors own the tiebreaker.

Indeed, in front of an ultimately glum crowd, Anthony Davis missed a pretty big Tuesday night.

“We don’t have time to feel sorry for ourselves,” said Ham. “We gotta get our bootstraps together and get back on the drawing board, look at the film and try to make the best of these last two games.”

Lakers guard Austin Reaves, right, and Warriors guard Chris Paul battle for control of the ball Tuesday night.

Lakers guard Austin Reaves, right, and Warriors guard Chris Paul battle for control of the ball Tuesday night.

(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

And to think, it was just last weekend that they manhandled the playoff-bound Cleveland Cavaliers and had etched a path out of the play-in tournament.

Two games later, their true selves have once again emerged, This is a team with two physically unreliable superstars. This is a team in trouble.

“It’s a difficult situation, but it’s not impossible,” said Ham, later adding, “You’re a true competitor, then you’ll make the best of a tough situation. So I expect us to do that.”

Headache. Nausea.



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