LeBron-less Lakers show off their new additions, newfound grit in win over Warriors
You can turn the page, but if the main characters are the same, how much can the story actually change?
That’s the challenge the Lakers face, one that began Saturday at Golden State, when three new players were able to debut, but a key plot point remained the same.
The Lakers have been able to keep games close with one or two of their starters sitting this season, and Saturday the injection of new blood into the locker room helped flip the outcome.
The Lakers traded D’Angelo Russell in summer 2017 as a young point guard with potential. He returns a one-time All-Star entering the prime of his career.
“Energy. Effort. Urgency,” coach Darvin Ham said of his message to his new-look team.
And while Davis struggled offensively, shooting just five for 19, he grabbed 16 rebounds and blocked three shots, including two late.
“Just shifted my mindset to the defensive end,” Davis said. “… I just wanted to go down and get every rebound and block every shot.”
The Lakers (26-31) closed the game on a 16-7 run to stop a three-game losing streak — the kind of late-game execution you might not expect from a group still in the “get to know you” phase.
“We looked really good out there tonight,” Davis said.
James, on the bench in street clothes, told Davis the same. He missed his second straight game after setting the NBA’s scoring record, soreness in his left foot and ankle too significant for him to start putting distance between himself and Kareem-Abdul Jabbar.
Both Ham and general manager Rob Pelinka, who addressed the media for the first time since the trade deadline, said tests on James’ injury haven’t showed serious damage. Asked whether the team would considered shutting him down until the All-Star break, Ham said he didn’t think James would “allow us to do that.”
“His foot, we have to follow the lead of it, based on how it’s feeling, have him ramp up in some workouts and see how it responds,” Ham said before the game.
Time, though, is running out on the Lakers as they try to race up the hill they created by beginning the season 2-10, all while figuring out how a bunch of new players can be maximized.
Davis said he and Russell talked the entire game, discussing pick-and-roll preferences.
“Just trying to play off of him,” Russell said.
Only Russell found himself in the starting five, opening the game with Schroder, Hachimura, Davis and Troy Brown Jr. Vanderbilt and Malik Beasley were in Ham’s second unit, while new center Mo Bamba continued to serve a three-game suspension.
The new acquisitions represent the front office’s attempt to alter the makeup of this team, and possibly ones in the future.
“The trade deadline approach is really months of work by a lot of people in the front office, lots of scenario-running and deep dives and lots of studying film and cap planning, and we had a lot of work going into this,” Pelinka said. “There were multiple paths we could take. All of this was strategically thought out as this unfolded. But we’re really pleased with where things landed. I think going into the trade deadline, really wanted to address shooting and spacing and more wing depth and size in general.”
Kareem Abdul-Jabbar addressed media before the Lakers played the Bucks regarding how he hopes to develop a bond with the new scoring king LeBron James.
The Lakers also were able to maintain flexibility — Russell is a free agent after the season, Beasley’s contract comes with a team option and Bamba’s contract next season isn’t guaranteed.
Pelinka said the team doesn’t view Russell as a “rental.”
“You can almost look at it as ‘pre-agency,’” Pelinka said. “If you really study the contracts of these five players, we very intentionally planned these moves to provide optionality in July. ... It really is an exciting time, I think, for Laker Nation. Just to think about the fact that we have these five young players, 26 and younger, that you can see how even those five guys fit really well around our captains of LeBron and Anthony Davis. So not only does it set us up for hopefully a productive run now, but … it gives us a core to look at going into next year that is very exciting.”
Pelinka said James and Davis “were both in favor of the deals” and “felt good about the moves.”
Saturday, for the first time in some time, the Lakers all could feel good about the results.
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