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Analysis: Lakers adjust to new norm while waiting to resume title chase

Lakers All-Star forward LeBron James (23) celebrates with teammate Danny Green after scoring against the Clippers during a victory on March 8, 2020.
Lakers All-Star forward LeBron James (23) celebrates with teammate Danny Green after scoring against the Clippers during a victory on March 8.
(Harry How / Getty Images)

This was supposed to be the week the Lakers solidified their position as the Western Conference’s top team, giving their star-studded roster a chance to rest before the playoffs began in mid-April.

The Lakers were scheduled to be on a trip starting Saturday that began a stretch of 11 games that included eight against non-playoff contenders.

Instead, the NBA had to suspend the season indefinitely after Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for the coronavirus. The next day, the league forbade teams from holding group practices or meetings, although players were allowed to use the Lakers facility for workouts. No other players could be part of their workouts — though they could be in the building using a different court. Only a member of the coaching staff could be present to help.

Then came word from the Brooklyn Nets that four of their players tested positive for the coronavirus. The Lakers provided testing for players who wanted it on Wednesday, with a directive to self-quarantine for 14 days as soon as they returned home in case they were infected after contact with the Nets’ players.

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Then NBA on Thursday gave the directive for teams to close their training facilities by Friday.

Each day as new directives from government health officials emerge, the reality of what society looks like changes. And so does the reality for the Lakers.

That has prompted Lakers vice president of basketball operations and general manager Rob Pelinka and coach Frank Vogel to check in with each other every day, usually in the morning. Players have been asked to check in daily to update the team about their health. As a group they have periodic conference calls to determine their next steps.

No one knows when the NBA will return or what will become of this season.

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When play was suspended last week, the Lakers were 49-14 — one win away from their first 50-win campaign since the 2010-11 season. They had clinched a playoff berth for the first time in seven seasons.

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They had a 5 1/2-game lead over the Clippers, a team they almost surely would have faced in the Western Conference playoffs, likely the finals. The Lakers had just completed a statement-making weekend when they beat the Clippers and the Milwaukee Bucks, owners of the best record in the league.

Then JaVale McGee declared them the best team in the world.

This was a make-or-break season for the Lakers. They mortgaged their future to acquire Anthony Davis from the New Orleans Pelicans, who will become a free agent this summer. They surrounded Davis and James with players the All-Star forwards helped pick, all of whom were expected to lead the Lakers to a championship.

After a drama-filled 2018-19 season, and a chaotic summer, the Lakers found stability on the court. Despite a season that began amid an international conflict in China, that was gashed by tragedy when Kobe Bryant died in a helicopter crash, the Lakers carried on with basketball and exerted their dominance little by little.

The Centers for Disease Control recommended not having gatherings of larger than 50 people for at least two months, which would eliminate the possibility of playing NBA games until then. Many states, including California, do not want gatherings of more than 10 people.

Everything the Lakers hoped to accomplish this season will have to wait as they pass the time not unlike many others. Unable to work like normal, they’ll play card games over bottles of wine or board games with their children.


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