When the Lakers introduced Anthony Davis this summer, he plainly said he doesn’t like playing center. On Friday night, though, he showed he will.
“If it makes sense, then obviously I don’t mind doing it,” Davis said. “And it made sense tonight. But Coach is very smart in being able to pick and choose he wants to play [me at] the five. And it might not be all game. It was just the second half tonight — well, really just the third quarter — to play the five, and we were able to accomplish some great things.”
The Lakers celebrated their first home game of the season with a convincing win, 95-86 over the Utah Jazz, evening their record after a 10-point loss to the Clippers in Tuesday’s season opener.
Throughout the game, the Lakers looked every bit like what they are: a team still figuring out how best to use its elite star power and role players. And a team with the ability to run away from some of the better teams in the NBA’s Western Conference. They led by as many as 22 against a Jazz team that made the playoffs last season and improved in the offseason.
“We took it to them tonight,” Davis said. “We were the aggressors, especially on the defensive end.”
LeBron James led all scorers with 32 points and neared a triple-double with 10 assists and seven rebounds. Davis added 21 points, seven rebounds and two assists. Daniels scored 15, nine of them in the third quarter.
Vogel used the same starting lineup from the first game, with James and Davis playing alongside JaVale McGee, Danny Green and Avery Bradley. Davis played the entire first quarter and scored 12 points. The Lakers came out of it leading by seven, already giving themselves more second-chance opportunities than they had against the Clippers.
By halftime, they had scored eight second-chance points. Dwight Howard grabbed six rebounds in the first half, three of them offensive.
But the Jazz were starting to close the gap. They outscored the Lakers by one in the second quarter. Without veteran point guard Rajon Rondo, the Lakers relied heavily on James to fill the role of facilitator once again. Vogel wanted to see that change.
He opened the third quarter with a new lineup, removing McGee and adding point guard Alex Caruso. That unit orchestrated a 9-0 run to break open a tie game.
“We were shooting 34% offensively and Rudy [Gobert] is a problem,” Vogel said of the Jazz center. “… If you have another center out there rolling to the basket he can … clog things up. Anthony and I talked about it. He was all for it and wanted to do it.
“Offensively, LeBron was being asked to do too much. We put another small in there, Alex Caruso. ... So both shifts in the lineup gave us a little bit of a burst offenseively, and we didn’t lose anything defensively.”
Said James: “Coaching staff just seeing what they felt what was best at the time. I give a lot of credit to JaVale being able to accept it as well. Then AC getting himself ready after not playing for the full half, or didn’t play the Game 1 … so a game and a half. So he stays ready.”
The Lakers outscored the Jazz 31-18 in the third quarter, thanks in part to three three-pointers by Daniels, and pulled away enough in the fourth that two-way players Zach Norvell Jr. and Kostas Antetokounmpo received playing time.
Although it was their home opener, it was not the first time the Lakers had played in front of their fans in a meaningful game. That happened Tuesday in the Clippers’ home opener, when Clippers star Kawhi Leonard’s pregame address was greeted by boos from encroaching Lakers fans.
Friday, the Lakers’ pregame address came from Green, who figures he got the job by process of elimination. He took the microphone and introduced himself — he is a new guy after all.
“For those of you who don’t know me, I’m Danny Green,” he said, to cheers.
He got even bigger cheers for his closer.
“We’ll do better than last year,” Green said. “Go Lakers.”