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Anthony Davis Was Key For The Lakers’ Title Run. He’s Also The Key To Their Future.

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The championship ambitions of the Los Angeles Lakers naturally centered on the historically great pedigree of LeBron James. But Anthony Davis proved to be the Lakers’ ultimate margin for error throughout its title run.

In the six seasons preceding Davis’s arrival, the Lakers missed the playoffs more times than they did in their first 65 years combined (five). The Lakers’ star duo provided All-NBA production this year en route to snapping the franchise’s decadelong Finals drought — equivalent to several eternities for most Laker fans — and becoming just the third team in league history to clinch a Finals berth after missing the playoffs over at least five previous seasons. But Davis joined the Lakers already on his own Hall-of-Fame pace, his combination of youth (he turns 28 in March) and stardom aligning perfectly with LeBron’s careerlong prime (he turns 36 in December).

Though Davis has expressed an ambition to follow LeBron “to hopefully nine more Finals,” he has yet to sign a contract extension with the Lakers, who have only LeBron’s $41 million player-option for 2021-22 on its books beyond next season, according to Spotrac. What The Brow decides to do next could set the course for the foreseeable future for this franchise.

With his 7-foot-6 wingspan, Davis produced a Finals run illustrating that his broad shoulders are the perfect bridge between James’s win-now window and the Lakers’ long-term future, provided he chooses to stay in L.A. Here’s a closer look at just what he means to the team.

Clutch-time impact

LeBron’s championship chases are brimful of the most pivotal buckets in NBA postseason history, and not just his own. Shots from his teammates — namely those of Ray Allen (2013) and Kyrie Irving (2016) — will be remembered for years.

In Game 2 of the 2020 Western Conference finals, Davis added his own clutch memory by sending the Nuggets home with a loss via buzzer-beater, the first by any Laker while trailing in a playoff game since Kobe Bryant in 2006, per BasketballReference.com. The Brow scored 10 points in clutch time in that Game 2, which provided the Lakers with a 2-0 series lead and marked half of his team-high 20 such points in the playoffs. James was the only other Laker to score at least 10 clutch-time points all postseason.

“I want to be aggressive, take some pressure off this guy [LeBron James] over here,” Davis told the media after the shot — his second career buzzer-beater. “A lot of teams lock in on him late game. … I’ve got his back and he’s got mine. Especially in the fourth quarter, we have each other’s back and will be locked in. That’s something we’ve been able to do, especially in this series.”

In the NBA Finals, Davis’s presence swung the Lakers’ net rating by a team-best 26.5 points, more than 11 points higher than second-place LeBron, per NBA Advanced Stats. The Brow proved at various points against Miami that he can both provide and stifle offense.

After Jimmy Butler’s 40-point triple-double for Miami in Game 3, just the third in Finals history, Davis requested the assignment of guarding Butler in the next outing. In Game 4, Jimmy got buckets to the tune of a Heat-high 22 points, but he shot just 1-for-5 when guarded by Davis. The Lakers’ collective effort that night gave them a 3-1 series lead, a championship advantage conquered only once before — by the legend Davis found himself running the league with.

Extending LeBron

In seven seasons preceding his arrival in L.A., Davis never advanced past the second round in the playoffs. In the season preceding The Brow’s arrival, LeBron and the Lakers missed the playoffs entirely. The Lakers’ new star duo both wanted and needed each other at respectively critical stages of their careers.

At age 35, LeBron finished second in MVP voting for the fourth time in his career, tied with Larry Bird and Jerry West for the most in league history. Though LeBron disagreed with the final count, he and Davis were the only pair of teammates to tally a point in voting. For some, Davis’s presence might dilute the rest of LeBron’s career, but their respective games actually go hand-in-hand, allowing LeBron to extend his prime.

For example: Including the playoffs, LeBron dimed Davis 238 times over the 2019-20 campaign, by far his highest single-season total among the 141 teammates to score off his passes.

For his part, Davis has consistently expanded his offensive repertoire, reaching new heights alongside LeBron. This season, Davis scored 328 points in the paint off his new teammate’s passes, another high among LeBron teammates. Including the playoffs, The Brow made a career-high 95 3-pointers, with 43 of them coming via the regular-season assist leader.

Anthony Davis has feasted on LeBron’s dimes

Teammates of LeBron James with at least 200 points in the paint off James passes in a single season, including playoffs, plus 3-pointers made

From LeBron’s passes
Player Season Points in the paint 3-pointers
Anthony Davis 2019-20 328 43
Dwyane Wade 2012-13 268 1
Dwyane Wade 2010-11 234 12
Anderson Varejao 2008-09 214 0

Source: NBA Advanced Stats

“I didn’t think we were going to be able to connect this fast just because of the fact he had a lot of stuff going on this summer with ‘Space Jam [2],’ so we didn’t get a lot of time to work out together,” Davis explained in November, months before the coronavirus pandemic further stagnated his adjustment with the eventual champions. “Then we hit a short training camp and had to go to China, and all that stuff, so I’m surprised that we’ve got a little connection right now.”

Throughout the Finals, their connection amounted to the Lakers’ outscoring the Heat by more than 14 points per 100 possessions with LeBron and AD sharing the court. Davis proved reliable over the 246 minutes LeBron sat in the postseason, marking James’s most minutes spent on the bench in any of his nine Finals appearances since 2011.

According to NBA Advanced Stats, the Lakers maintained a net rating of 5.0 over Davis’s 203 minutes without LeBron on the court in the playoffs. Much of the team’s success centered on The Brow boasting increases in rebounding, assist and usage rate while sporting a true shooting percentage of 68.7 in that sample size.

Over an entire postseason, that mark would be higher than any of Stephen Curry’s seven playoff runs.

Perimeter versatility

With his aforementioned 7-foot-6 wingspan, Davis is capable of connecting himself to any part of the court when anchoring defenses.

He held opponents to just 41.9 percent shooting throughout the playoffs, according to NBA Advanced Stats, trailing only Markieff Morris for the Lakers’ best mark. Once the Finals rolled around, Davis held Miami opponents to just 39.2 percent shooting as the Heat’s offensive efficiency declined by over 17 points with him on the court.

“That’s why he’s the Defensive Player of the Year,” LeBron told the media after Davis stifled Butler in Game 4. “We said that all year. His ability to play one through five, guard anybody on the floor, take the challenge, not only guard on the perimeter, and continue to protect the paint. Guards drive on him. It’s hard to score on him.”

Though Davis has not yet won Defensive Player of the Year honors, he boasts a case as arguably the league’s most versatile weapon on that side of the court. His combination of length, strength, agility and acumen can pose problems against any action at any spot, as evidenced by him holding opponents to the league’s lowest field-goal percentage on jumpers over the past five seasons, according to Second Spectrum.

AD shuts down jump shots

Top 5 defenders on jumpers over the past five seasons, including playoffs

Player Opp. Field Goal %
Anthony Davis 32.7%
Kevin Durant 33.1
Andre Roberson 33.1
Jayson Tatum 33.6
Eric Gordon 33.8

Among 239 players with a minimum of 1,000 jump shots defended.

Source: Second Spectrum

During his first season as a Laker, when defending from the paint, Davis ranked seventh among 96 qualified players in field-goal percentage allowed (47.3), the best mark by any Lakers defender in those same five seasons. Throughout his career, Davis has frustrated opponents by stifling their offense just as well as he provides his own.

During the regular season, Davis had his own struggles with his jumper, shooting just 34.9 percent on contested jump shots, his lowest rate in Second Spectrum’s seven seasons of play-by-play tracking. Fortunately for the Lakers, Davis found his footing by the playoffs, improving to 43.1 percent when shooting contested jumpers. Not only was that the best mark on the team, but his clip ranked 12th among 48 qualified shooters in the 2020 playoffs, placing him between Danilo Gallinari and CJ McCollum.

Interior dominance

As for Davis’s Hall-of-Fame pace, his Finals run with the Lakers only further cements his eventual case, on which Basketball-Reference gives a 96 percent probability.

Prior to Game 1 of the Finals, LeBron described why he believes Davis, despite all his accomplishments thus far, is only getting started at age 27.

“There’s a reason we wanted him here,” LeBron said to Yahoo Sports ahead of his 10th career Finals appearance. “He’s a complete player, and now the world is seeing what he can do in games that matter. All he ever wanted was a chance. That’s all anybody ever wants. And now that he has it, I think you’re going to see him flourish and he has. We haven’t seen the best of AD yet. He’s just scratching the surface.”

Even before joining the Lakers, Davis was already the only player to record at least 10,000 points and 1,000 blocks since 2012-13, his rookie season. In fact, he’s among just eight players since the 1973-74 season to record those numbers with 500 career games, with six of them already being inducted into the Naismith Basketball Hall of Fame.1 Among those on this short list, only Shaquille O’Neal and David Robinson reached those marks quicker than Davis, per the Elias Sports Bureau.

Anthony Davis is in elite, big-man company

NBA players with at least 10,000 points and 1,000 blocks in their first 500 career games

BY the time of their 500th game
Player Team Season Points Blocks
Anthony Davis Lakers 2019-20 12,002 1,209
Elton Brand Clippers 2005-06 10,080 1,031
Tim Duncan Spurs 2003-04 11,454 1,261
Alonzo Mourning Heat 1999-2000 10,577 1,560
Shaquille O’Neal Lakers 1999-2000 13,589 1,353
David Robinson Spurs 1995-96 12,873 1,823
Patrick Ewing Knicks 1991-92 11,789 1,547
Hakeem Olajuwon Rockets 1990-91 11,634 1,693

Source: Basketball-Reference.com

As LeBron’s career nears its end, Davis’s prime should give the Lakers the cushion they need to maintain their now-restored championship window. The Lakers hope to rest their long-term ambitions on Davis’s broad shoulders as he continues walking the path of past legends while simultaneously breaking his own mold.

The idea already has a nice ring to it.

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Toronto FC hoping to make MLS Cup run having spent much of 2020 far from home

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On a recent Thursday in Hartford, Conn., Toronto FC goalkeeper Quentin Westberg pondered the dichotomy of wanting to reach MLS Cup on Dec. 12, but also desiring to see his family again. Meanwhile, Jim Liston, the team’s director of sports science, was planning a trip to Lowe’s to buy 15 garbage cans so players could have an ice bath after training. As for manager Greg Vanney, he was fretting about his team’s health and the lack of practice time their schedule was affording.

Such is the life of a team as it attempts to not only navigate its way through the COVID-19 pandemic, but has been forced to do it away from home.

Due to travel restrictions between the U.S. and Canada, TFC — like the league’s other two Canadian teams, Montreal Impact and Vancouver Whitecaps — set up a “home” base in the U.S. for the remainder of the season; Toronto were stationed in Hartford. (Vancouver Whitecaps took roost in Portland, ground-sharing with Timbers, while Montreal Impact split use of New York Red Bulls’ facilities in Harrison, N.J.) This was on top of nearly every team spending nearly a month inside a bubble back in July at the MLS is Back Tournament outside Orlando, Florida.

The Reds spent about seven weeks back in Toronto as they played a series of matches against Canadian teams. In mid-September, the remainder of the regular season — and the temporary move to Hartford — beckoned. The vagabond nature of the campaign is what led Liston to joke that he was willing to discuss “whatever five seasons” the team has been through so far. But for Vanney and the players, the campaign has required a special kind of focus.

“A lot of what we’ve done here, and what we try to preach here is just control the controllables, and don’t get too drawn into the things you can’t,” Vanney told ESPN. “Roll with it, and make the best out of whatever the situation is.”

Stream FC Daily on ESPN+
– 2020 MLS Playoffs: Who’s in, schedule and more
– MLS on ESPN+: Stream LIVE games and replays (U.S. only)

Toronto has largely succeeded in spite of its odyssey. While there was disappointment at missing out on the Supporters’ Shield to the Philadelphia Union, TFC went 7-3-2 during its Hartford sojourn and finished with the second-best record in the league. But the challenges have still been immense. Simply being out of one’s home environment is difficult enough, but the time spent away from family and loved ones weighs heavy on the psyche, even as Vanney has given players the occasional trip back to Toronto — under quarantine — to reconnect with loved ones.

“It’s just very different, very challenging and emotionally exhausting,” Westberg said of his experience while based in Hartford.

Westberg has arguably had it tougher than most. The TFC goalkeeper is married with four children, including a baby girl who was born in June. For that reason, Westberg and his wife, Ania, made the decision at the end of September that it would be better for her and their kids to head back to his native France so they could be surrounded by family. Westberg called it “the least bad decision,” but there are difficulties nonetheless.

“I’m a very even person, and this year has challenged me a lot,” he said. “I’m still pretty even, but I keep a lot to myself and for sure there’s some difficult days, seeing your family [struggle] from your absence.”

The inability to be home has affected the players and staff in other ways. In Toronto, there are ways of disengaging from the game. Being with friends, loved ones or even in familiar surroundings can be the best medicine in terms of forgetting a bad game or training session. But in Hartford, at the team’s hotel, that escape is nearly impossible even as players try to distract themselves by reading or taking online classes.

“You don’t really unplug,” Westberg said. “You FaceTime family, or this or that, but it’s too short. You’re 100 percent focused on your soccer, and your whole day basically relies on being ready for whatever soccer activity that you have next, whether it’s practice or game. It’s good for your physique, it’s optimal for the way you eat and the way you [train]. But mentally, you’re not as fresh as your body.”

That isn’t to say there are only negatives to the separation. There is also an us-against-the-world mentality that Toronto has adopted, given that their players and personnel are experiencing the season in a way that is vastly different than most other teams. The team staff has done what it can to make their surroundings a home away from home, whether it’s personalizing the locker rooms at Rentschler Field or having hotel staff brand the surroundings in TFC colors. The hotel went so far as to bring in a barista who could consistently give the players their coffee fix. Supporters groups have even sent down banners in a bid to convey the fact that the players are remembered.

The care that TFC takes for players has extended to families back home, with the club supplying meals to loved ones three times a week.

On the logistical side, Liston made sure that one of the gyms used at MLS is Back was brought to TFC’s hotel in Hartford, and he remarked that the food at the hotel is “arguably the best we’ve ever had on the road.”

There have also been efforts to create new routines. Assistant coach Jason Bent, aka DJ Soops, has been in charge of the pregame music selection for the past 18 months — no easy feat for a squad that has a considerable international presence. In Hartford, Bent has set aside Thursday nights to spin music in one area of the hotel. He’ll even go live on Instagram or Twitch for those who prefer to relax in their rooms.

“[We] opened it to players and staff and basically anyone that’s part of our bubble to come relax, listen to music and just enjoy each other’s company,” Bent said. “I enjoy making people happy so if it’s helping everyone even in the slightest, I have no problem arranging the set and spinning.”

For Vanney, the pandemic and operating outside of the team’s home market has meant any number of challenges. He said the team has used three different training facilities in Hartford, with varying field conditions. He recognizes that the trips home are vital for the mental health of his players and staff, but any breaks also mean less time spent on the practice field. The compressed schedule, which at times involved games every three or four days, has had an impact as well. Even the best-laid plans in terms of squad rotation were impacted as minor injuries began popping up.

“We end up with a lot of guys in different positions because they need special kinds of treatment or care to help them get fit and back to health,” Vanney said. “So it ends up being a lot of different things kind of going on all at once, and that’s been the challenge of it.”

Recovery from matches has been complicated by the fact that TFC doesn’t have access to the same level of facilities that it does at home — hence Liston’s emergency trip to Lowe’s to fashion impromptu ice baths for the players. Then there are the different ways the players occupy themselves on the road as compared to home, especially amid the pandemic.

“There’s really no life outside of the hotel,” Liston said. “[At home], you may go walk the dog in the afternoon or go for a walk with your wife or friend or girlfriend or family and you’re out and about. The recommendation [here] is to kind of stay put. So you’ve got a really active population and pro athletes, who we’re asking them to be sedentary the rest of the time, kind of stay in the hotel from a COVID and safety standpoint. That’s not optimal for recovery either.”

There are also the creature comforts of home that are no longer available on the road, which can impact sleep.

“Sleep is the number one tool for recovery, and that’s definitely been a challenge,” Liston said. “We do well-being questionnaires and the scores on quality of sleep, and hours of sleep, just drop.”

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Tom Barlow and Brian White seal Toronto’s fate in a 2-1 win for New York Red Bulls. Watch MLS on ESPN+.

Another change has been same-day travel, which has drawn mixed reactions from the TFC players and staff. Vanney and Westberg are generally in favor, saying it reminds them of when they each played in France. Flying back the same night also means a training day isn’t lost. Liston has a different perspective in that he prefers arriving the day before, and then leaving the same day.

“I think [same-day travel] makes for a really long day,” he said. “And there’s definitely a negative impact on performance, taking three bus rides and a plane ride before your game. You’re getting home — it can be 12:30, but it could also be 1:30 in the morning, and that’s where you know our well-being scores and sleep hours and quality just disappear. When you have so many games in succession, you can’t make up the sleep.”

With the playoffs set to begin for TFC on Nov. 24, the end is in sight, even as it makes for a complex — and even conflicting — set of emotions.

“This is the tricky part. I miss them a lot,” Westberg said of his family. “But in a way I want to see them as [late] as possible in December, because obviously, there’s this idea that we want to do well in the playoffs and we want to keep going. TFC has a history of setting high standards and high expectations. It’s a heavy load to carry but also an exciting one.”

Win or lose, it’s a season they’ll never forget.

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Bettman: NHL is mulling temporary realignment

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The NHL is considering a temporary realignment of its teams for the 2020-21 season due to COVID-19 travel restrictions, according to commissioner Gary Bettman.

Bettman said Tuesday that restrictions on travel across the Canadian border, as well as “limitations in terms of quarantining when you go from certain states to other states” within the United States, could mean the NHL creates a more regionalized alignment for its upcoming season.

“As it relates to the travel issue, which is obviously the great unknown, we may have to temporarily realign to deal with geography, because having some of our teams travel from Florida to California may not make sense. It may be that we’re better off — particularly if we’re playing a reduced schedule, which we’re contemplating — keeping it geographically centric and more divisional-based; and realigning, again on a temporary basis, to deal with the travel issues,” Bettman said during a 2020 Paley International Council Summit panel with fellow commissioners Adam Silver of the NBA and Rob Manfred of MLB.

The NHL board of governors has a meeting scheduled for Thursday which will provide a progress report and possible recommendations for a season format, based on talks between the league and the NHL Players’ Association. The target date for starting next season remains Jan. 1.

Bettman said the league is considering a few scheduling options for the 2020-21 season. Something that’s off the table: playing the entire season in the kind of bubbles the NHL had in Toronto and Edmonton, Alberta, to complete last season. But Bettman said teams opening in their own arenas is a possibility, along with a modified bubble.

“We are exploring the possibility of playing in our own buildings without fans [or] fans where you can, which is going to be an arena-by-arena issue. But we’re also exploring the possibility of a hub. You’ll come in. You’ll play for 10 to 12 days. You’ll play a bunch of games without traveling. You’ll go back, go home for a week, be with your family. We’ll have our testing protocols and all the other things you need,” he said.

Bettman also indicated that the NHL is exploring “a hybrid, where some teams are in a bubble, some teams play at home and you move in and out.”

The NBA’s board of governors unanimously approved a deal with the players’ union that sets the stage for a season that will open on Dec. 22 and with a reduced schedule of 72 games. Silver said that the commissioners are in communication on COVID-19-related issues, especially the NBA and the NHL, since the two leagues’ teams share arenas and, in some cases, team owners.

Silver said he senses that the NBA will have fans in many of its buildings this season.

“We’re probably going to start one way, where we’re maybe a little bit more conservative than many of the jurisdictions allow,” he said. “What we’ve said to our teams is that we’ll continue to work with public health authorities. Arena issues are different than outdoor stadium issues. There will be certain standards for air filtration and air circulation. There may be a different standard for a suite than there will be for fans spaced in seats.”

Silver said there will be standardized protocols that are consistent from arena to arena, such as proximity between players and fans: “In certain cases, for seats near the floor, we’re going to be putting in testing programs, where fans will certify that they’ve been tested — some within 48 hours, some within day of game.” While Silver supported a continued expansion of the NBA postseason through its play-in tournament, Bettman said that he’s not in favor of expanded playoffs or “playing with the fundamentals of the game.” The NHL had 24 teams in its postseason last summer.

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The Battleground States Where We’ve Seen Some Movement In The Polls

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With apologies to The Raconteurs, the presidential race continues to be “steady as she goes,” with little sign of tightening despite a plethora of new polls. FiveThirtyEight’s presidential forecast gives Joe Biden an 89 in 100 shot at winning the election, while President Trump has just an 11 in 100 chance. This makes Biden the favorite, but still leaves open a narrow path to victory for Trump, for whom a reelection win would be surprising — but not utterly shocking.

At the same time, we also have fewer polls from live-caller surveys, which have historically been more accurate and have shown slightly better numbers for Biden, than polls that use other methodologies, such as polls conducted primarily online or through automated telephone calls. Nevertheless, while the overall picture has shifted only a little in recent days, a few battleground states have seen at least some movement in their polls, which has slightly altered the odds Biden or Trump wins in each of those places.

What election stories need to get more coverage | FiveThirtyEight Politics Podcast

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