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Lakers resume play with several top teams on horizon

Anthony Davis and the Lakers play against a series of winning teams in the next 14 games, including a rematch against Russell Westbrook and the Rockets on March 12.
Anthony Davis and the Lakers play against a series of winning teams in the next 14 games, including against Russell Westbrook and the Rockets on March 12.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

The next phase for the Lakers’ push toward the NBA playoffs brings an immediate challenge to hold onto the top spot in the Western Conference.

They have 29 regular-season games remaining, and 10 of the next 14 will be against teams with a .500 record or better. An 11th is against the Brooklyn Nets, who are in playoff position in the East.

The Lakers begin this stretch drive against the Memphis Grizzlies at Staples Center on Friday night.

“The stretch run, we know how important it is, how important every game is and how we continue to get better and better and better each and every day,” LeBron James said after practice Thursday. “It’s all part of the process. Can’t shortcut the process. We’re not going to think too far ahead. We’re going to approach tomorrow like this is our own Game 7. We play the Memphis Grizzlies and we need to go at them as we know they’re going to go at us and we just build on that.

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“For me, personally, it’s my leadership, it’s the way I play the game, it’s the way I approach the game. It’s my mind-set to lead these guys every night we go on the floor. So I’m looking forward to these next 29" games.

The Lakers are 14-9 against teams with records over .500.

They are looking for their initial wins this season over top-echelon teams like the Boston Celtics, Philadelphia 76ers, Milwaukee Bucks and Clippers, teams the Lakers will encounter in the next 27 days.

Still, the Lakers have the best record in the Western Conference (41-12) and second best in the league behind the Bucks (46-8).

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More than three weeks after Lakers-Clippers game was postponed, no makeup date has been set as the league deals with a crowded calendar.

Before the All-Star break, the Lakers won three consecutive games, including an overtime win at Denver (38-17), which is second in the West.

“Keep coming in and having practices like we had today. Keep getting after it,” Anthony Davis said when asked what it’s going to take for the Lakers to get better. “Staying in the moment. Take it game by game. We know this is technically the second half of the season, where guys come back from All-Star break and teams pick it up. We gotta do the same thing. We want to make sure that we’re picking up like we left off defensively. We know there will probably be a little bit of rust offensively, but defensively, we can control that. I think we’ll be fine.”

Cousins making strides

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After the Lakers completed practice Thursday, DeMarcus Cousins was seen practicing his shots, which led to coach Frank Vogel being asked if the 6-11 center could return sometime during the playoffs.

“There is no date, and there’s really no specifics on it ... I’m not even sure where he’s at with exactly what he’s doing day to day,” Vogel said of Cousins, who is recovering from a torn knee ligament. “I just still know he’s a long way away, but they’ve [the Lakers medical staff] said they’re not ruling out him returning. That’s really all I can give you.”

UP NEXT

VS. MEMPHIS

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When: 7:30 p.m., Friday.

On the air: TV: Spectrum SportsNet; Radio: 710, 1330.

Update: Behind rookie sensation Ja Morant, the Grizzlies are perhaps the biggest surprise in the NBA, holding onto eighth place in the Western Conference with a 28-26 record. Morant leads the team in scoring (17.6) and assists (7.1) per game. The Grizzlies have five players averaging double figures.


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