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It’s time for LeBron to pass the torch to Anthony Davis

The Lakers have won three games in a row, but how can they keep up that momentum?

San Antonio Spurs v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images

The Los Angeles Lakers have finally turned things around! They’ve won three games in a row, Anthony Davis is playing out of his mind, and it’s time for them to make a push for the playoffs!

Well, kind of.

A three-game win streak is nothing to scoff at. The Lakers have been playing much better basketball recently. They’re attempting fewer threes (since that’s not their strong suit), locking in on the defensive end, and Davis has reverted back to an MVP-caliber state. He’s put up 30 points and 15 rebounds in each of the Lakers’ last three games.

All that being said, it’s important to note one crucial factor - they’ve played the Brooklyn Nets, the San Antonio Spurs, and the Detroit Pistons.

In the case of the Nets, that’s a good win. They were without Kyrie Irving for obvious reasons, but taking down Kevin Durant will always be an impressive feat, especially when Davis dominates the game as he did.

But in the case of the other two games, the Lakers were playing two teams that they should definitely beat. The Spurs had lost nine of their last ten heading into their game against the Lakers, and the Pistons had lost eight of their last nine (and are also without Cade Cunningham).

If anything, this was the stretch of games fans should have picked out on the schedule as the Lakers’ chance to turn things around. They spent a good portion of the early season taking on playoff-caliber teams, and now they’re got a chance to make up some ground. They even play the Spurs two more times over their next three games.

What is impressive about this run is that they’ve been able to do it without LeBron James. In fact, the Lakers have a better record this season without James than with him - 2-8 with James, 3-2 without. They are an above-.500 team without him.

Now, there’s obviously more context that needs to be added to that statement. As previously mentioned, the quality of their competition has been very subpar over the past few games. James’ absence shouldn’t prevent the Lakers from beating the likes of Detroit and San Antonio.

The one thing that needs to be taken away from this stretch of games, however, is that Davis needs to touch the ball more.

In the first 12 games of LA’s season, Davis averaged 34.6 minutes, 17.2 shots per game, and had a 25.6% usage rate. Over their last three games (three wins), Davis has averaged just 31.8 minutes, but he’s put up 20.0 shots per contest and has had a usage rate of 35.8%.

However, perhaps the most staggering change in a stat is Davis’ second-half shot attempts. Throughout the first 12 games, he was averaging only 6.4 second-half shots per game (on par with Lonnie Walker IV), but in LA’s last three wins, he’s averaged 10.3 (the most on the team).

There are plenty of other chances that have occurred over the last three games. The Lakers are shooting much better from distance (37.0% vs. 30.0%), Walker IV and Austin Reaves have gotten hot, and Thomas Bryant has given the Lakers a bit of a boost at the center position. And a lot of that can even be attributed to poor defense by poor defensive opponents.

But, Davis has been more involved. And, it’s brought the Lakers nothing but success.

All of this isn’t to suggest that James needs to remain out for the rest of the season. That would be a foolish proposition. But when James does come back, it’s time for The King to take a step back. Ever since he joined the squad, Lakers fans have heralded Davis as the one to take over once James retired. It could be time to begin that shift in power.

(And before it gets suggested, Russell Westbrook’s usage rate has remained virtually unchanged from before the win streak and through it. In fact, it was a bit higher during the Lakers’ three-game streak - (26.9% vs. 26.6%).

So, are the Lakers back? Kind of. This was the section of the schedule where they had a chance to make up some ground, and that’s exactly what they’re doing, so good for them. And if Davis can keep playing at this level, they could have a chance to make a small push. But James might have to start giving up the spotlight in order for that to happen.