Hi this is Tania Ganguli, Lakers beat writer for the Los Angeles Times, here with your Lakers newsletter.
Only one preseason game remains for the Lakers, against the Golden State Warriors on Friday in San Francisco, and this team is already starting to show its prowess.
Wednesday night against the Golden State Warriors, both LeBron James and Anthony Davis played after resting during Monday night’s game, and they put on a show. Their cohesion in the pick-and-roll play is evident, and they are both learning just how enjoyable it is to play together. Davis opens things up for James, and James opens things up for Davis. It’s the first time in Davis’ career that he hasn’t had to shoulder the burden of being the only superstar on his team.
“I was joking with LeBron earlier, I said, ‘It’s the first time in a while where I can have five or six points, whatever it was, at halftime and we’re up 30,’ ” Davis said after the 126-93 win over Golden State. “It feels good knowing that you don’t have to do much.”
Davis played 28 minutes and scored eight points, but he also had eight assists and 10 rebounds. He and James combined for 19 of the team’s 33 assists.
James had one assist in particular that was spectacular. As he rose to the basket on a fast break, sandwiched between a pair of defenders, James spun in the air, switched the ball to his left hand and flung it toward the corner behind him. Danny Green was standing there, wide open, and made the ensuing three-pointer.
Yes, they are having fun. Things are starting to return to normalcy after last week’s trip to China.
A weird time abroad
Last we talked, I promised a newsletter from Shanghai. Well, you might have heard that things didn’t go exactly as planned during the China trip.
In China, I had hoped to see the mania, described by so many people, whenever NBA players traveled there. I had hoped to see how the players reacted to it, and I had hoped to eat many delicious noodles and dumplings.
On the noodles and dumplings front, I succeeded.
On the basketball front, nobody did.
Instead, the Lakers landed in the eye of an international crisis they didn’t fully understand. It started with a tweet Daryl Morey sent in support of protesters in Hong Kong. Things became crazier through the first part of the week before tensions cooled. No one wanted to talk on the record, worried about the consequences of what they might say. And no one wanted to talk off the record, wondering how secure their communications were.
The night before the first game was to be played, the American journalists on the ground were convinced the game would not happen.
Every time the phone rang with a call from someone from the NBA’s public relations staff, I thought: “This is it. The games are canceled.” But they never were.
Chinese officials didn’t want to see the games canceled, although Chinese broadcasters dropped all NBA preseason games. The NBA didn’t want to escalate tensions to a point where the relationship couldn’t continue.
That was always the league’s perspective. Their partnership with China has opened up a country that includes 1.4 billion people and is a big part of their plan to see the brand grow globally. Basketball has long been part of Chinese culture. There were basketball courts throughout Shanghai, Shenzhen and even Zhujiajao, the little so-called water town about an hour from Shanghai that is filled with Venice-like canals.
The decision to be so entrenched in China is not without controversy. China is ruled by an authoritarian government that does not allow dissent and has a human rights record that draws the wrath of organizations including the United Nations and Amnesty International. The NBA’s perspective is that they are far from the only U.S. company to benefit from doing business in China, and they hope their sport can have a unifying effect. The perspective of detractors is that a league that prides itself on opposing injustice should not be doing business in China.
Last week became mostly about that. Worth noting, Chinese broadcasters on Monday started airing NBA preseason games once more without any explanation.
Here’s what you missed.
Since last we spoke …
— Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee have been effective for the Lakers, who have generally enjoyed their contributions.
— The Lakers’ lineup in their first preseason game was the same as their lineup last night. Could that be a hint?
— With our correspondent in China, Alice Su, I wrote a comprehensive look at the situation that awaited the Lakers when they landed in Shanghai. She went to an NBA exhibit that had removed all Rockets memorabilia — including national hero Yao Ming’s jerseys — from its walls and showcases.
— Anthony Davis sprained his right thumb against the Nets in the Lakers’ second exhibition game in China. It was a relatively minor injury, and had we been able to speak with Davis or coach Frank Vogel after the game, we likely would have known that. Instead, with media access declined by the league and the Lakers, panic ensued.
— I took a deep dive into what happened in China from a league perspective and a player perspective, based mostly on interviews with people who requested anonymity.
— LeBron James pushed the NBA not to force players to speak while in China. When he finally spoke on Monday, he criticized Morey for not considering the consequences of his tweet before sending it. Times columnist Helene Elliott said that showed that James cared most about his money. Times columnist Bill Plaschke found it to be a hypocritical stance for James. And Times columnist LZ Granderson dove into the complexities and problems he saw with putting so much heat on James for his comments.
— After James’ comments, protesters in Hong Kong trampled and burned his jersey.
— Wednesday night’s exhibition game featured a lineup we’ve seen before — James, Davis, JaVale McGee, Avery Bradley and Danny Green. James was listed as a forward, but he really functions as a point guard in that group. My colleague Broderick Turner took a look at the possibility this is the starting group.