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WASHINGTON, D.C. — As the ball fell through the hoop late in the fourth quarter on Sunday — Anthony Davis‘ 20th made field goal, accounting for his 49th and 50th points of the night — the Capital One Arena crowd let the visiting Los Angeles Lakers big man hear their appreciation.
“M-V-P! M-V-P! M-V-P!”
“Jayson Tatum is playing his ass off, but when you’re talking about people in the MVP race or category, that probably will change after tonight,” Lakers starting guard Patrick Beverley said. “[Davis] should be up there, for sure.”
LeBron James, who finished with 29 points, eight rebounds and six assists, echoed the sentiment.
“He’s been unbelievable, man,” James said. “On both sides of the floor. I mean, playing like the MVP of this league. Just straight dominance.”
Davis’ performance against the Wizards was one of the finest of the 11-year veteran’s career. It was the second-most points he has ever scored, and the most he has had in a Lakers uniform as he joined Shaquille O’Neal as the only players with back-to-back games with 40-plus points and 10-plus rebounds for the purple and gold.
It had been three decades since any player in the NBA put up a stat line of 50 or more points, 15 or more rebounds and three or more blocks while connecting on at least 70% of his shot attempts, as Davis (73% from the field) mirrored Patrick Ewing’s 50 points on 71% shooting, 15 rebounds and three blocks that the New York Knicks star put up back on Dec. 1, 1990.
As astounding as his individual numbers might be, Davis said his lone focus remains on team achievement.
“To win a championship,” Davis said when asked whether his goals for the season now include earning his first Maurice Podoloff Trophy. “That’s it. If your mindset is on winning a championship, the rest will take care of itself. That’s always been my thought. I put the team first over any individual awards or accolades that come with it. So if we continue to do what we do and win basketball games, the rest will take care of itself.”
Sunday was the Lakers’ third straight victory and their eighth win in their past 10 games to lift their record to 10-12 — just two games behind the defending-champion Golden State Warriors, currently No. 6 in the Western Conference.
The Lakers’ win capped a sublime stretch for Davis, whose highest career finish in MVP voting was third in 2017-18 when he played for the New Orleans Pelicans.
In his past nine games, Davis is averaging 35.3 points on 64.8% from the field, 45.5% from 3 and 88% from the foul line while tallying 15.6 rebounds and 2.9 blocks a night. Lakers coach Darvin Ham said things changed for Davis when he was able to fully recover from the lower back pain that had plagued him in training camp and that his production, and confidence, have only improved since.
“The first and foremost thing is his health,” Ham said. “I think he’s feeling great, his body is feeling great. He’s had a few back issues early on, but he’s worked his way through them, and you can just see it in his face, as well as see it in his play. He’s having fun playing the game of basketball pain-free. And the guys know it. They know I make him a top priority in terms of who we need to play through.”
James said part of his responsibility is staying in Davis’ ear to let him know just how much he means to the Lakers’ franchise.
“I think we all need to be reminded sometimes,” James said. “No matter how good you are, no matter what you’ve got going on in your life, we all need to be reminded sometimes why you’re here and what your capabilities are and how much we believe in each other.
“Me, as a leader of the team, it’s part of my job to make sure, to reassure AD how great he is, how great he is in this league, not just for this team, but for this league.”
The Lakers are eager to go as far as Davis will take them.
“He’s totally picked up the torch and he’s running with it,” Ham said. “And he’s bringing us along for the ride. It’s totally great to see.”