The third quarter has become the most important quarter of the Los Angeles Lakers.
It's in that frame that the Lakers either impose their will on opponents and cruise to victory or dig themselves a hole to steep enough to climb out of.
When leading after the third period the Lakers are undefeated, 42-0. When they trail after 36 minutes, their record is 6-11. A stark contrast of results.
The third period has also been the time when MVP candidate LeBron James takes his scheduled rest in order to be fresh for the fourth. The Lakers' time without LeBron on the floor this season hasn't been pretty. With the King on the floor, L.A. is outscoring teams by 10.3 points per 100 possessions. Without him? L.A. is being outscored by 1.4 points per 100. It's right par with MVP frontrunner Giannis Antetokounmpo and better than the likes of James Harden, Luka Doncic, Kawhi Leonard and Nikola Jokic.
What does that drastic dropoff in performance mean when the stakes get higher? One of two things.
Either James drastically reduces the amount of time he spends on the pine.
Or the Lakers turn to their other superstar to carry the load.
That second one... pretty solid contingency plan!
Let's face it, we've always known that Anthony Davis's importance to a potential Lakers championship run would hinge on what he does in the few moments LeBron isn't in beast mode. But now we have a defining window - the third quarter when LeBron is usually resting - where Davis can't just be good. He has to be great.
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Davis has spent almost 100 more minutes on the floor in the third than LeBron playing five fewer games. With Davis on the floor in the third, the Lakers are scoring 113.9 points per 100 possessions which isn't necessarily a bad number but they're only outscoring teams by 1.7 points per 100.
Following the All-Star break, Davis had taken his game to another level in the third. The Lakers are now scoring 118.7 points per 100 in the third period with a net rating of 7.9 with Davis running the show. That sort of dominance not only gives the Lakers the lead more times than not heading into the fourth, but it allows LeBron to take a full rest to stay fresh for the fourth. A well-rested LeBron spells doom for the other 29 teams.
The Lakers' third-period dominance led by Davis was never more evident than in their statement weekend sweep of the league's other title contenders. The Lakers outscored the Bucks by 11 in the third. Davis had 11 points in the frame and was a plus-12. Against the Clippers, Davis once again had 11 points going 4-for-7 from the field - the Lakers outscored the Clippers 36-28 to win the frame.
With Davis being assertive it gave Frank Vogul the chance to pull LeBron who played 8:20 of the third against the Bucks and just 5:51 in the battle of L.A.
No one will ever question The Brow's talent - he's a top seven player in the NBA - but now that he doesn't have to carry the load on a nightly basis we forget how special he can be. At times in the regular season, it seemed that Davis himself forgot just how good he could be.
Davis' arrival in L.A. may be reminiscent of Pau Gasol's. Great player who leads his team to the playoffs every now and then but couldn't take them to the promise land. Put them beside an all-time great and they have a chance to win championships.
We saw how that ended for Gasol, and if Davis can continue his excellence when LeBron is off the floor, his ring might not be too far behind.
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