LeBron James took a different approach with Anthony Davis before Game 2 of their first-round playoff series against Portland.
There was no joking. No laughing. No teasing.
In fact, there was no interaction at all.
“He didn’t say one word to me today,” Davis said after the Lakers’ 111-88 win Thursday to tie the series at 1-1. Game 3 is Saturday at 5:30 p.m. PT.
It was a stark contrast to their usual dynamic. James and Davis are close friends. Their lockers are separated by an empty one at Staples Center. They banter. They share late night glasses of wine together after games. Davis goes over to James’ house for dinner. They often wait for each other after practices and games to walk alongside each other.
But James knew to give Davis space Thursday.
“He saw the look on my face from the beginning,” Davis said.
Davis went on to finish with a game-high 31 points on 13-for-21 shooting and 11 rebounds through three quarters, nearly doubling his field goal efficiency (61.9 percent) from Game 1, when he shot 33.3 percent in the Lakers’ 100-93 loss.
With that performance, Davis became the third Laker to score at least 30 points in 30 minutes or less in a playoff game. The last Laker to do it was Kareem Abdul-Jabbar in 1987 against Boston.
Davis acknowledged that he was upset after Tuesday’s loss and needed some reassurance.
“I was really down on myself after Game 1,” Davis said. “I didn’t feel like I performed to the level I needed to. And [James] let me have my moment and kind of get on myself. And then he talked to me and said I was fine. He said it’s one game. And as a guy who’s won multiple championships and been in these situations before, he knows what to expect. He knew what to expect from his teammates. And he kind of just was there for me to kind of encourage me and keep me levelheaded.”
James, a three-time NBA champion and four-time MVP, has guided Davis since the team officially acquired him in July.
Davis, a seven-time All-Star, has never gotten past the second round of the playoffs.
Together, they’re trying to lead the Lakers to their first championship in 10 years.
“I’ve kind of just been leaning on him this entire season, just trying to figure out the tricks [of the] trade of playing with a guy like him and a team like this,” Davis said. “It’s been fun, it’s been great. The on-court chemistry has clicked from Day 1. The off-court chemistry, I mean, you guys see it all the time on social media and stuff how close we are. But on-court, I never played with a guy of his caliber.”
James was asked Thursday if he feels the same way about Davis.
He said Davis ranks among the best teammates he’s ever had.
“I’ve had some great teammates in my career,” James said. “AD is one of those unicorns and he does things that some of my other great teammates are not capable of doing. In the same sense, I played with Dwyane Wade, and he could do some things that AD is not capable of doing. And I also played with Kyrie Irving, and he did some things that AD and D Wade are not capable of doing. So I’ve had the luxury of playing with some great players and that’s just three of them.”
Davis, who is averaging 26.1 points on 50.3 percent shooting, 9.3 rebounds and 2.3 blocked shots, said James has been his mentor through everything this year.
And there’s been a lot.
There was preseason drama after Houston Rockets general manager Daryl Morey tweeted in support of protestors in Hong Kong. There was deep grief after Kobe Bryant, who played for the Lakers his entire 20-season career, tragically died in a helicopter crash in January. There was shock and fear after the season was suspended March 11 because of a global pandemic. There was anger after George Floyd was murdered in May. There was resolve amid nationwide protests against racism and police brutality. And now there’s loneliness as players are confined to a bubble away from their friends and families.
Throughout it all, James has been there for Davis.
And they’ve managed to remain focused on their goal.
“To be able to have the success that we’re having so far is great and he’s just been staying in my ear about everything,” Davis said.” Especially through the playoffs right now.”
True to form, Davis then took a loving shot at his buddy.
“He’s seen it all in the 25 years he’s been playing,” he said.