Maybe the equilibrium of the state of California depends on it, but the Lakers and Golden State Warriors are typically at opposite ends of the NBA spectrum.
When the Lakers had championship caliber teams, the Warriors were bottom dwellers, lucky to upset a higher seeded opponent if they made the playoffs at all.
When the Warriors have championship caliber teams, as they have had the past four seasons, the Lakers have seen the darkest days of their franchise.
Now that the Lakers have LeBron James, there’s a chance for them to close the gap. There’s a chance the Lakers and Warriors might be at the top of the NBA food chain at the same time.
“It will be fun for me and all NBA fans,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said. “Both of these teams have an unbelievable fan base. To get both teams at the top will be fun. Golden State is there and we are working on getting there, so hopefully we can see that happen.”
Wednesday’s preseason game in Las Vegas offered a taste of what might come between the teams. Their meeting Friday offered no such predictive properties, as most of the teams’ principal players spent a lot of time on the bench.
The Lakers beat the Warriors 119-105 at the SAP Center in San Jose, making a comeback after being down 17 once both teams’ reserve players entered the game.
Svi Mykhailiuk led all scorers with 22 points.
James, Brandon Ingram, Rajon Rondo, Josh Hart and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope all sat out of the game for the Lakers, and Kevin Durant rested for the Warriors.
James and Rondo were being rested. Hart is out as a precautionary measure after he tweaked his hamstring last week. Caldwell-Pope returned to Los Angeles to rehab right knee tendinitis.
On Friday, the Lakers, already shorthanded by choice, lost two players to ejections. Michael Beasley was ejected in the third quarter after pushing the ball into Draymond Green’s chest.
Beasley didn’t argue the call, but Walton asked for an explanation. He said he was told the refs asked Beasley not to go toward Green and Beasley did it anyway.
“Looking back on it, it looked, I looked pretty aggressive, especially I guess with my MO,” Beasley said. “Draymond is one of my really good friends.”
In the fourth quarter, Lance Stephenson was ejected. Walton was told Stephenson threw a punch. Stephenson’s ouster came after he was fouled, which meant Warriors coach Steve Kerr got to select the Lakers player to shoot the free throws.
Lakers Coach Luke Walton said they requested James, who wasn’t playing. But in the preseason, those rules aren’t hard and fast.
“We told them no,” Walton said.
JaVale McGee took the free throws instead.
Ball gets some run
Friday marked the second preseason game in which Lonzo Ball played this year, having missed the rest of the preseason as he recovered from knee surgery he underwent in July.
The Lakers’ main goal with Ball was to get him into shape. The strain of an NBA game is difficult to imitate. But Ball offered some glimpses of who he is as a player. He finished the game with eight points, six rebounds and seven assists.
In Ball’s first game back, James said he could see the effects of his long layover. Before Wednesday, Ball hadn’t played competitive basketball since March.
Others came away impressed at Ball’s conditioning.
“Kinda normal honestly,” Kyle Kuzma said. “I don’t know how he does it. He didn’t do nothing all summer, practiced for the first time last week or whatever. He was running up and down, great physical shape, so I think he did great for the most part.”
Rivals catching up
James strolled into the arena shortly before Kerr’s pregame press conference, and the two stopped for a chat upon seeing each other.
Kerr’s Warriors have faced James and the Cavaliers in the Finals the past four seasons.
“I think there is just total, mutual respect between our team and LeBron because we’ve been through all these battles the last four years,” Kerr said. “We know how good he is, how difficult it is to beat his team, regardless of who he is playing for or with. He’s obviously one of the all-time greats and still at the peak of his powers. I think when you have those kind of competitions year in and year out there is a respect that grows and that continues even though you changed jerseys.”
Follow Tania Ganguli on Twitter @taniaganguli