Here’s how the Los Angeles Lakers are winning without Anthony Davis

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LOS ANGELES — First, the obvious disclaimer. The Lakers are not better without Anthony Davis.

So spare those takes just because the Lakers had a 128-99 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers on Monday at Staples Center, which marked the team’s third consecutive win while Davis stayed sidelined with continued soreness in his lower tailbone area.

Nonetheless, the Lakers have shown within a small sample size some big-picture implications on how they have adjusted.

Lakers still can lean on LeBron

The Lakers may miss Davis’ inside dominance and defense. Even if they do not want to put too much more strain on James, he has shown he can handle an extra burden in the short term.  

Two days after missing Saturday’s game in Oklahoma City with flu-like symptoms, LeBron James had 31 points on 12-of-16 shooting and eight assists against Cleveland. And against Dallas on Friday, James powered the Lakers with 35 points, 16 rebounds and seven assists.

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“He’s always in attack mode. But he’s probably a little bit more when AD is out,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “He’s going to do whatever it takes to win, whether it’s getting his teammates involved or being assertive and looking for his own shot and attacking the basket.”

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LeBron James shoots as the Cavaliers' Kevin Love defends during Monday night's game at Staples Center.

Kuzma has blossomed during Davis’ absence

Within a week, Kyle Kuzma went from trade bait to a signature piece. Though his production against Cleveland (11 points) marked a drop-off from what he had in Dallas (26) and Oklahoma City (36), the third-year forward looked more comfortable in the team’s starting lineup. The reasons went beyond Kuzma having extended minutes, though. He is further removed from two left ankle injuries and an eye injury that sidelined him for a combined nine games.

“We knew it was just a matter of time before that comes around,” Vogel said. “Maybe it was these couple of games with AD out that finally gets him into that rhythm.”

Kuzma must now establish his niche when he assumes his bench role whenever Davis returns.

“Just trying to be consistent with my attitude and effort — the biggest thing — because that’s the only thing I can really control. I can’t control shots going in, but I can control attitude and effort. I think this past trip, both those things were really high and my game kind of reflected from it, from the positive vibes. 

The Lakers’ role players have increased confidence

At this point, Dwight Howard (21 points), Avery Bradley (12), Danny Green (10 points), Alex Caruso (10) and JaVale McGee (two blocks) have remained fairly consistent. During Davis’ absence, Vogel has leaned deeper into his rotation and has played seldom-used reserves Troy Daniels (eight points), Quinn Cook (seven) and Jared Dudley (five). As soon as Davis returns, the Lakers’ rotation will shrink once again. But those players gained experience with a bigger workload now.

“That confidence not only helps them,” Dudley said. “But it helps the coaching staff and star players that we’re not here by ourselves. It’s not just LeBron and AD.”

Should any of those role players make key plays moving forward, they can trace back to this valuable January stretch without Davis.

“It’s big-time for them to get reps, game reps and meaningful minute reps,” James said. “You never know throughout the course of a playoff game where you just need someone to come off the bench and give a spark.”

Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Mark Medina on Twitter @MarkG_Medina.



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Credit: USATODAY