There’s chatter about LeBron James challenging overwhelming favorite Giannis Antetokounmpo for NBA MVP.
There’s a real battle on the Los Angeles Lakers for who deserves the honors for the team.
Anthony Davis looked every bit the part for much of Thursday’s 103-101 NBA bubble debut win over the Los Angeles Clippers. The Lakers forward dominated the scoreboard and sizzled in a third-quarter rally that lifted the Lakers past their crosstown rivals in what very well could be a Western Conference finals preview.
His back-to-back 3-pointers late in the third quarter punctuated a 17-5 run that gave the Lakers a 72-71 lead and stopped the bleeding of what started out as a dominant Clippers stanza.
After the Lakers led the entire first half, Clippers forward Paul George went on a personal 9-1 run with three straight 3-pointers. Before the Lakers would score their first field goal of the quarter, the Clippers had gone on a 14-1 run to take a 66-55 lead.
But Davis willed the Lakers back to a 77-76 lead by the end of the quarter that the Lakers translated into victory. The best defense one of the league’s premiere defensive teams had for Davis was repeatedly fouling him in the paint. Davis made them pay with a 16-for-17 performance at the line.
But James, who filled up the box score as he regularly does, was not to be outdone. He scored two of the biggest buckets of the game with a layup in bruising traffic in the final minutes that extended the Lakers lead to 101-98 and a putback layup that secured the Lakers victory with 12.8 seconds remaining.
In the end, Davis finished with 34 points, eight rebounds and four assists. James struggled from the field, hitting 6-of-19 shots. But he connected when the stakes were highest and tallied 16 points, 11 rebounds and seven assists.
Paul George threatened to steal the victory for the shorthanded Clippers, who started bubble play without Montezl Harrell and Lou Williams, neither of whom has yet been cleared to play. He sank another 3-pointer with 28.4 seconds remaining to tie the game at 101-101.
But after James put the Lakers up on the other end, George’s final heave from beyond the arc didn’t connect. George finished with 30 points, five rebounds and three steals while hitting 6-of-11 3-pointers. Kawhi Leonard tallied 28 points, four assists, two steals and two blocks.
It was the final meeting of the regular season for the rivals, who would start the playoffs as the top two seeds in the West if the postseason started today. The Lakers have a stranglehold on the top seed, extending their lead over the Clippers to 6.5 game with seven games remaining, while the Clippers lead over over the third-place Denver Nuggets now stands at one game.