LeBron James is single-handedly keeping the Lakers afloat, just as Anthony Davis did before him.

When LeBron James missed time due to injury earlier in the season, he raved about teammate Anthony Davis’ performance in his place. “AD was the best player in the league in the last four or five games,” James told reporters in late November. He wasn’t far away at the time. In the five games James refers to, Davis averaged 33.2 points and 17.4 rebounds per game.

More importantly, he lifted a team that was 2-9 at the time of James’ injury to 5-11 upon his return. Nor did he slow down when James returned to the fold. From November 11 to December 4, Davis averaged 34.2 points per game as the lakers he won seven of 10. He dealt with illness, missed most of two games, returned for four more, and then, like James, was gone. His injury was much more serious. A stress injury to his foot has kept him out since December 18. The Lakers were 11-16 at the time. Without his best player, his season faded.

But it’s not over because, in Davis’s absence, James may have claimed the title of best player in the league. The Lakers have treaded water without Davis. They are currently 5-5 since going down and 16-21 overall. The 38-year-old James is averaging 34.6 points per game over his last 10 appearances, surprisingly giving the Lakers two different players averaging 34 points over a 10-game stretch with just 37 total games played. In the process, he guided the Lakers through the most difficult part of their schedule. They have played 13 of their last 17 away games, but nine of the next 12 are at home.

“I was scoring 30 points and it wasn’t working,” James quipped after his 47-point birthday outburst on Dec. 30. “Let me try to score 40.” He has already done it in consecutive games, reaching 43 in a master class against him hornets. It was the first time he’d scored 40 in consecutive games as a Laker and, for reasons Father Time can’t explain, they came in the first two games James played after his 38th birthday.

It’s a perfect summary of what this season has been like for James, Davis and the Lakers. The narrative surrounding Davis has been that injuries have detracted from the athletics that once made him great. He proved his doubters wrong when James was away. Age was supposed to be James’ kryptonite. The 38-year-old version of him, so far, has been even better than his 37-year-old me.

James recruited Davis to Los Angeles. She became a Laker so the two could play together. This season, the best work of hers has fallen apart. She has had to, because no other teammate has stepped up to provide consistent support for any of the superstars. No Laker besides James has averaged even 15 points per game in the nine games Davis has sat out since he hurt his foot. Only Atlanta has made fewer 3-pointers as a team this season.

It is perhaps the purest expression of stardom that exists in basketball. James and Davis don’t have room to operate inside. They haven’t had the support of each other, or much of it from anyone else on their team. Yet both have endured a collapsing season with little more than their greatness.

James is probably not the best basketball player anymore. What he’s doing now is outlier. Virtually all of his offensive numbers were trending down before Davis went down. He wasn’t getting to the basket at half court, and his stellar defense still comes and goes. Davis probably isn’t the best player in the NBA either. The jump shot that could have bought him a ticket to that conversation after the 2020 bubble is gone, and the durability of him is still too questionable to warrant such an honor.

But through 10 games here and there, both have proven capable of getting to that level. He has kept the Lakers alive in the play-in race. They sit just two games behind the fading 10th place. utah jazz. It’s not a place to aspire to, but remember, James and Davis are so much better together. They won a championship together the last time they were both healthy. What they’re doing separately should be a reminder to their opponents — and to their own faltering front office — of what this team can be like when its superstars finally get to share the court again.

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