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Newsletter: Lakers acquire another piece of the playoff puzzle

Lakers forward Markieff Morris is fouled by Pelicans guard JJ Redick (4) as he drives to the basket during a game Feb.25, 2020, at Staples Center.
Lakers forward Markieff Morris is fouled by Pelicans guard JJ Redick (4) as he drives to the basket on Tuesday night at Staples Center.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

Hi, this is Tania Ganguli, Lakers beat writer for the Los Angeles Times, here with your Lakers newsletter.

This last week the Lakers made a roster move to shore up a part of their roster. But in signing forward Markieff Morris, the Lakers also did something else. They created a vehicle for showing what DeMarcus Cousins had grown to mean to the organization.

To sign Morris, the Lakers had to waive Cousins. This move tells us that Cousins will not be able to contribute to the team this season. But Cousins is still continuing his rehab from a knee injury and will be with the team in every way except at games.

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“He’s still allowed to stay with our team and rehab and get healthy,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “He’s become part of our family so he’s going to be around. We’re excited about that.”

Cousins suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament while working out over the summer and hasn’t played one minute for the Lakers. The team stood by Cousins despite a harassment charge he faced from his ex-girlfriend, and those charges were eventually dropped.

Right from the start, he made himself part of the team. He mentored the young centers that were with the team during training camp. He helped discuss strategy with his teammates. He argued on behalf of teammates with referees during games to the point where I sometimes wondered if he was going to get a technical.

“He’s had a great pulse on what our group was going through,” Vogel said of Cousins. “I remember there was a game where he challenged LeBron [James] at halftime to be more aggressive or something like that. He’s contributed to our culture, and we’re excited that he’s still going to be around in a different capacity and while he’s going to be here rehabbing.”

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Playoff watch

Who will be the Lakers’ first-round playoff opponent? What will their playoff journey look like?

Until it’s set, let’s take a look at that potential race.

The Lakers beat up on the team with the worst record in the NBA on Thursday night and they’ll now have back-to-back games against two teams that could be their first-round foes — the Memphis Grizzlies and the New Orleans Pelicans.

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The Lakers have a 5½-game lead for the top seed in the Western Conference over the Denver Nuggets. On the other end of the West’s playoff bracket right now there are five teams within four games of each other — the Memphis Grizzlies in eighth, the Portland Trail Blazers in ninth, the New Orleans Pelicans in 10th, the San Antonio Spurs in 11th and the Sacramento Kings in 12th.

The Grizzlies have been fading lately as they deal with a series of injuries. They’ve lost four games in a row, including one of those to the Lakers.

What makes it even more likely the Grizzlies will fade is that they have the most difficult strength of schedule remaining, according to NBA.com.

Portland, New Orleans, San Antonio and Sacramento, meanwhile, are in the bottom third in the league in remaining strength of schedule. It will be much easier for those teams to rise into a playoff spot.

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Since we last spoke ...

  • Our Bill Plaschke wrote about the ways in which the city of Los Angeles grieved for Kobe Bryant.
  • The NBA rescheduled the Lakers and Clippers game that was postponed in the aftermath of Bryant’s death. It will be played on April 9. It took some shuffling of the schedule. The Lakers will now play the Warriors on April 7, the Bulls on April 8 and then the Clippers on April 9, becoming the first team since 2018 to play three games in three days.
  • Having missed out on his brother, the Lakers signed Markieff Morris, who received a buyout from the Detroit Pistons. To make room, they had to waive DeMarcus Cousins.
  • The Lakers beat the Grizzlies at home, with only one minor issue. Anthony Davis got kicked in the calf and seemed like he might have suffered an injury. Davis, though, didn’t miss any games because of it.
  • The Lakers then beat the Celtics and Bill Russell attended the game wearing a Kobe Bryant jersey.
  • On the eve of Monday’s public memorial to Bryant, Magic Johnson shared his thoughts about how difficult it would be for the city to move on.
  • Here is our recap of the memorial service which took place at Staples Center on Monday morning.
  • Vanessa Bryant opened the memorial service with a moving speech about her late husband and daughter. The private moments they shared, the thoughtful gifts he gave her. Plaschke wrote about how much her speech connected with fans.
  • We posted the text of several speeches from Kobe Bryant’s memorial service in their entirety. Michael Jordan told a story of how Bryant pestered him until he agreed to be a mentor for Bryant. They eventually became extremely close.
  • Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka shared details about their relationship and said Bryant had texted him just minutes before the crash.
  • Connecticut women’s basketball coach Geno Auriemma told a terrific story about his reaction when Bryant first told him he was coaching his daughter’s team. “He said, ‘I’m coaching my daughter’s team.’ I said, ‘Oh my God. That poor kid.’ So when I watched the highlights of her playing, on about the third or fourth time she touched the ball, Gianna passed it when she was open. I thought, ‘She’s not listening to her father.’”
  • You can read the text of Vanessa Bryant’s speech here.
  • It’s unclear whether James went to the memorial. He was asked the next day and didn’t shed much light on it, except to say that he respected the question.
  • The Lakers beat the Pelicans in the first matchup between James and Zion Williamson.
  • Alex Caruso is still proving his importance to the Lakers.
  • The Lakers were uninspired in the first half of their game against the Golden State Warriors, but snapped back into shape in the third quarter. LeBron James didn’t play due to what the Lakers said was a groin injury, but they won by 30 points anyway.

Until next time...

As always, pass along your thoughts to me at tania.ganguli@latimes.com, and please consider subscribing if you like our work!


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