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Anthony Davis fueling Lakers’ play-in showdown with Minnesota

When things with the Lakers were at their worst, the obvious bad fits on the court and the more subtle wrinkles holding the team back off of it, Anthony Davis would tighten his lips, widen his eyes and stare blankly across the room while his feet rested inside a giant ice bucket.

It was becoming too familiar of a routine — lose, soak and sulk.

As the Lakers rebuilt their roster and season, a new feeling took over — one that had escaped Davis for almost two full seasons. It was why he wanted to be a Laker in the first place.

“I came here to win,” Davis said Monday. “It’s a winning franchise. … First year we get it done. Second year, had my sprain in the knee in the playoffs and then it was a shorter offseason. … weird Year 2. And Year 3, we just [had] injuries and just totally flunked that season. So it feels good to get back into a winning culture, winning ways.

“From this season, starting 2-10 and winning a lot of basketball games, it put us in a position to be in a play-in and control our destiny.”

The position the Lakers are in, hosting the Minnesota Timberwolves on Tuesday night with a chance to win their way into the playoffs, is hardly the bar that separates success from failure with the Lakers. Winning, bolded and in all capital letters, has been the franchise’s mission since even before it landed in Los Angeles.

But relative to where this team not only was but where it seemed headed, finishing the regular season four games over .500 certainly merits acknowledgment.

Davis finished the season playing in 29 of the Lakers’ final 31 games, averaging 25.1 points and 13 rebounds. The Lakers went 19-10 with Davis on the court, with LeBron James only playing 15 times in those last 31. The two games Davis missed both were the second nights of back-to-back games, the Lakers splitting the pair.

“We needed all of those minutes, all of those wonderful moments, all of those spectacular performances,” coach Darvin Ham said after Lakers practice Monday.

Anthony Davis stretches out before a loss to the Clippers on April 5.

Anthony Davis stretches out before a loss to the Clippers on April 5.

(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

They’ll be healthy favorites when they take the court Tuesday against the Timberwolves, who will be without starters Rudy Gobert (suspension) and Jaden McDaniels (broken hand), the results of two ill-timed punches that struck a teammate and a wall, respectively.

The winner of that game will play second-seeded Memphis in the first round of the playoffs.

For Davis, just like the Lakers, this stretch has been a bit of a return to prominence. Tuesday will be the Lakers’ first postseason game in front of a full home crowd during James’ tenure. The Orlando, Fla., bubble and partial crowds late in the following season meant the stars haven’t experienced the biggest games in a fully energized home arena.

As Davis continued to have big games, defensive game plans were again authored to stop him as the focal point, with him drawing double and even some triple teams during games.

The last three Laker games, Davis has been held to below 20 points, the only time this season that’s happened three times in a row.

“Other guys are chipping in with the scoring responsibilities,” Ham said. “It’s nothing that’s an issue with him or us calling his number any less. He’s just playing the right way. Certain guys are open and certain guys have been hot and we’ve made sure they had the ball as well.”

But there does seem to be a relationship between Davis’ aggression and the Lakers finding success. In the 15 games when he’s taken at least 20 shots, the Lakers are 9-6. When he’s shot 15 or fewer times, the Lakers are 8-8, not counting the game he left in Cleveland during the first quarter because of an illness.

When he’s shooting frequently and getting to the free-throw line, the Lakers have been tough to beat, going 15-5 in the 20 games Davis scored 30 or more.

Ham insisted he’s not concerned with attempts to take Davis out of games, even if fans can, and opposing scouts would like to see Davis play with a more consistent force.

“They want to [see it] and they will in segments, but you still have to play the right way, you know what I’m saying?” Ham said. “You’ve got talent around you. … You’ve got guys that can help you, take the weight off you. There are going to be times late in games or end of quarters, end of halves where it’s, ‘Go be a monster.’ ‘Go get something for us.’

“But for the most part, him being aggressive, him having the year that he’s had with his scoring and his output rebounding, it’s not going to deter him from playing the right way — especially when you have talent around you.”

Anthony Davis drives to the basket against the Clippers on April 5.

Anthony Davis drives to the basket against the Clippers on April 5.

(Luis Sinco/Los Angeles Times)

Still, finding ways to keep Davis productive amid a sea of defensive attention was on the Lakers’ to-do list Monday during practice.

And if the Lakers move on, particularly with games slowing down and being played more and more in the half-court, it’ll be on Davis as much as anyone to carry the load.

After more than a season of losing, the chance to play in meaningful games as a Laker again has Davis energized.

And doing it once won’t be good enough.

“We like to get greedy and ultimately reach our goal that we started at the beginning of this year and that’s to win a championship,” he said.

This story originally appeared on LA Times

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