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Lakers, hottest in NBA when season stopped, ready to restart and play into October

The Lakers' Anthony Davis, left, and LeBron James wait to be introduced before a game against the Spurs on Feb. 4, 2020.
The Lakers’ Anthony Davis, left, and LeBron James
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

The Lakers made a strong statement about their championship hopes in early March when they defeated two of the NBA’s top teams, the Milwaukee Bucks and Clippers.

Those raised expectations for LeBron James, Anthony Davis and the team of winning the franchise’s 17th title will continue after a long break.

On Friday, the NBA Players Assn. voted to approve the Board of Governors’ 22-team return-to-play scenario to restart the season after it had been halted in mid-March because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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The Lakers and 21 other teams are scheduled to start playing July 31 at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Fla. The last game of the NBA Finals, if the series went seven games, could be played Oct. 12, which would be about four months later than usual.

Being the last team standing and hoisting the trophy remains the goal of the Lakers, no matter when that time comes.

They put themselves in position to be title favorites after beating Giannis Antetokounmpo and the NBA-leading Bucks on March 6 at Staples Center and Kawhi Leonard, Paul George and a Clippers team that had won six straight on March 8 in a “road” game at Staples Center.

The Lakers had won 11 of 13 games before the league was shut down March 11 after Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for the coronavirus. Two unnamed Lakers also tested positive.

Now the team is ready to regroup and resume the chase for a championship.

Even at 35, James is still a force. He leads the NBA in assists (10.6), is 11th in scoring (25.7), 22nd in rebounding (7.9) and seventh in player efficiency rating (26.08).

Davis is ranked ninth in scoring (26.7), tied for second in blocks (2.4), 17th in rebounds (9.4) and third in PER (28.25).

From keeping it lighthearted to being serious, James has been at the forefront during the Lakers’ group chats about staying “mentally and physically prepared” as they approach heading to Orlando, according to people familiar with the situation but not authorized to speak publicly.

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The league informed teams they will be allowed to travel with about 35 people, including players, as a way to hopefully reduce the risk of COVID-19 infections. The Lakers will take 17 players, which includes two two-way players, to Walt Disney World, which is where teams will stay in mostly secluded hotels that are on the campus of ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex.

The Clippers have been preparing since the start of the season to play for a title, but their playoff path will look much different than anticipated.

Players and staff are expected to report to their practice facilities around June 22 for COVID-19 testing, but it’s not mandatory, according to people. The scheduled June 30 date to report is mandatory.

Teams can report to Walt Disney World around July 7 or 9 and will be in a 24-to-48-hour quarantine. Players also will be tested. Teams will start scrimmages against other teams July 23 to 29.

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Families of the NBA players will be allowed to come to Orlando, but not until the second round of the playoffs.

The Lakers (49-14) had a 5½–game lead over the Clippers (44-20) for the best record in the Western Conference when play stopped.

“There will be a lot of focus for the Lakers and all the teams on basketball only, with the family not being there right away,” an official for one NBA team said. “I think that they will be really in-tuned. I think the basketball will be sloppy in the beginning, but it’ll be good as it goes along.”

During an interview on TNT’s “Inside the NBA” on Thursday, Commissioner Adam Silver referenced how the league might put in rules that could keep coaches away from the sideline if they are at higher risk for COVID-19. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, eight out of 10 deaths related to the coronavirus in the U.S. have been in people 65 or older.

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Lakers assistant coach Lionel Hollins is 66, but has insisted that he wants to be with the team for the eight seeding games and playoffs at Walt Disney World.

“Lionel wants to go. Lionel is in,” one person said. “Those older coaches like Lionel believe it’s going to be safe in Orlando.”


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