It’s been a little bit of necessity driving invention, but the Lakers seem to have found a way to manage life without Anthony Davis.
Somehow, since losing their star center more than three weeks ago, the team has even managed to play winning basketball, navigating travel and back-to-back games and injuries piling up beyond Davis’.
They’ve done it with increased competitiveness, a greater sense of urgency from LeBron James on down, and by role players taking advantage of more minutes and shots.
All of it, though, has been built on the back of playing with a sprinter’s pace.
“There’s really no scout for speed,” Lakers guard Russell Westbrook said after the Lakers won their fourth straight game Friday night.
One night later in Sacramento, they were at it again, racing step by step with some of the fastest legs in the NBA.
And somehow, they never slowed down.
After 47 minutes 53.2 seconds, a tie score and 268 points, it seemed as if the Lakers would have a chance to win the game — two Dennis Schroder free throws awaiting them after a foul on De’Aaron Fox, who had tied the score a possession earlier.
On a night where everything moved fast, the game suddenly stopped for a foul review triggered by Sacramento coach Mike Brown.
The challenge was unsuccessful, and as cowbells clanged, Schroder buried the two free throws, the Lakers winning 136-134.
Fox had a last-second three-pointer to try and win, but for one of the few times all night, the ball didn’t go in.
LeBron James scored 37 points,
Schroder had 27 points, and Thomas Bryant had 29 points and 14 rebounds. Westbrook finished with 23 points and 15 assists off the bench, the Lakers now just two games under .500.
It was a game full of points and drama.
With one minute left and the Lakers down two points, there was just one place they could look.
James barreled through the paint, drawing the sixth foul on Domantas Sabonis, scoring and making a go-ahead free throw — the kind of load-management-defying playing no 38-year-old NBA star should be making one night after dominating in Los Angeles.
The James bucket was in response to a slick step-back jumper from Fox put the Kings up in a game where both teams refused to be stopped.
From the jump, both offenses hummed, the Lakers scoring a season-high 73 points in the first half.
The intensity required for the Lakers to win without Davis certainly has to be draining, with minutes starting to pile up on the players, especially James.
But Lakers coach Darvin Ham said he and his team are committed to the marathon nature of the season, even if Saturday was just one game shy of the halfway point of the year.
“I see it as the glass half full. I see a ton of potential,” Ham said before the game. “When I was hired here, I was excited about the whole process of turning this thing around. And the type of guys we got in the locker room, it’s a lot of talk about our roster all the time. But to me, if you really put in the work and you really buy into the group theory and what we’re trying to get done as a unit, you set yourself up for a ton of success.”
The Lakers, for the last few weeks, have experienced some, climbing back into postseason contention.
And Saturday in Sacramento, a lot of those strengths didn’t waver.
James was once again an age-defying, high-jumping bulldozer. Schroder continued his best run of basketball of the season. Bryant’s fill-in work for Davis remained remarkable.
And Westbrook had one of his best games since joining the Lakers.
If there was a problem, it was once again turnovers — though that’s a bit of a necessary evil if you’re going to run the way the Lakers have been running.
On Saturday, they had 17 turnovers — including a pair late from James.
Still, “fast” has been an identifying trait at a time when “injured” and “undermanned” could have easily taken center stage.
“I think we’re able to stay afloat because guys, they can see the light at the end of the tunnel and how we’re trending in the right direction,” Ham said before the game. “And it just motivates them to get that much better and to continue to prepare that much harder and continue to be locked in as a group that much more. I’m thrilled. I’m not worried. Like I said in my [first] press conference, this is just a challenge. It’s not pressure. I embrace all of this every day.
“I love it. I’m blessed. I thank God every day to be in this seat with this group of people, with the support I have around the building. I’m good, man. We gonna do it.”
On Saturday, they did.
This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.