LeBron James and Anthony Davis are a match made in Lakers heaven

For the Los Angeles Lakers, it wasn’t supposed to be this seamless. The early part of the new NBA season was supposed to be a time of learning and growth, where progressive development took precedence over wins.

As it turns out, they’re getting both.

LeBron James came into this campaign, the 17th of his career, with some question marks hanging above him. His defense, not just lacking but essentially absent for stretches of last season, was under the microscope. His leadership, having been unable to inspire a young and limited Lakers team a year ago, was being doubted.

And despite the arrival of Anthony Davis in a trade blockbuster that had some acclaiming an almighty coup and some casting doubts over whether it was a desperate final dice roll to get James another championship, it seemed likely there would be a period of adaptation to begin 2019-20.

As it turns out, 10 games in, things could scarcely be going better. James and Davis have become dangerous co-conspirators on the court and firm friends away from it. Kyle Kuzma has emerged as a willing third spoke. The Lakers are piling on the points and yet are even more impressive defensively. The team was still meant to be in getting-to-know-you mode, but instead, the Lakers sit proudly atop the Western Conference standings.

All the gruffness and tension that seemed ever-present with James last season — when he labored on a team that wasn’t up to scratch and arguably didn’t do enough to help it grow — appears to have dissipated.

James lauded Davis for his toughness in playing through physical discomfort in a 123-115 victory at the Phoenix Suns on Tuesday night, as the big man overcame a heavy blow to the ribs in the opening stages to score 24 points and grab 12 rebounds.

“For him, when he’s showing that grit when he’s playing with injuries, there’s no reason for any of us not to be out there as well,” James told reporters. “He’s been showing everything.”

However, what was more striking was the way he joked with Davis afterwards, teasing that James himself and teammate Rajon Rondo, who both played high school football, would have remained in the game throughout and not sought treatment. Davis grinned along in response. There’s a relaxed mood in the Lakers locker room — and it has been a long time coming.

According to Lakers head coach Frank Vogel, the James/Davis pairing is bearing fruit because of a natural positivity between the two, who genuinely seem to enjoy each other’s company. James has not always been an easy colleague, but he’s going out of his way for Davis.

“What I’m seeing here is how much they spend time together away from the basketball court,” Vogel told ESPN. “And quite frankly, even in film sessions, in the locker room, it seems like the two of them are always together and just building that friendship.

“I think LeBron’s just done everything in his power to make sure that … Anthony’s comfortable with his new team.”

It is still very, very early. A lot can happen. The Lakers were 4-6 at this point last year, rebounded to get to as high as six games above .500 — and then things fell apart entirely. FOX Bet has the Lakers at +350 to win the NBA Finals this season, behind only the Clippers, at +320. FiveThirtyEight rates them as the fourth-strongest team in basketball, with a 97% chance of reaching the playoffs and an 8% shot at winning it all.

James is not a one-man show anymore. He can’t afford to be, and the evidence is clear: he doesn’t want to be. There are enough one-two punches in the NBA now that having a single lonely superstar on a roster is not sufficient to guide a team to the NBA Finals.

“You have to have a fully functioning Anthony Davis for this team to win a title,” FS1’s Nick Wright told First Things First. “The whole plan was, LeBron comes to L.A. in year one, sees what’s there … and then you bring in your co-star. Anthony Davis not only has to be healthy; he has to be better than he has been so far.

“What LeBron did in 2017 with the (Cleveland Cavaliers) — which is carry a team to the NBA Finals — that doesn’t exist in the West. You have to have a co-star alongside him, and that has to be Anthony Davis.”

Davis is a slightly odd fit for Los Angeles in some ways. He isn’t a natural self-promoter and offers his observations in quiet tones. Despite that, he has made no secret of the fact that he believes he is the best player in the NBA and sets that ongoing demand of himself.

He and James might just be different enough in nature, yet complementary enough on the court, to make this thing work. The main thing for the Lakers is that the team is different enough from the dumpster fire of last year to make a tilt at the title a realistic outcome.

The early signs (and they are extremely early) are pointing in the right direction.