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Lakers newsletter: They join the NBA on hiatus; what a week it was

LeBron James (23) and Anthony Davis (3) celebrate after a score against the Clippers during a 112-103 victory on March 8, 2020.
LeBron James (23) and Anthony Davis (3) celebrate after a score against the Clippers during a 112-103 victory on March 8.
(Harry How / Getty Images)

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

I write this on Thursday evening at a time when the Lakers were scheduled to play the Houston Rockets. They were going to try to recover from a trap game they lost to the Brooklyn Nets while trying to keep their healthy cushion at the top of the Western Conference.

Instead, the NBA season has been halted as society works to try to slow the spread of COVID-19, a novel coronavirus that is spreading throughout the world, causing a pandemic.

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The NBA took a step most other sports entities hadn’t yet, and they did so after Utah Jazz center Rudy Gobert tested positive for the virus on Wednesday. Before long the NHL suspended its season and MLB decided to delay its start. College conferences began to cancel or postpone their basketball tournaments, some had done so before the NBA suspended operations, and then on Thursday afternoon the NCAA announced that all winter and spring championships had been canceled.

At the time of Gobert’s positive test, the league was still grappling with how to proceed. San Francisco had recommended not playing games in front of spectators, but the Warriors went ahead and held their Tuesday night game against the Clippers with spectators. Once San Francisco banned mass gatherings, the Warriors had no choice but to prepare to play without fans.

On Wednesday afternoon, team governors (members of ownership) and alternate governors were invited to a conference call to discuss how to proceed. The result was that most owners were in agreement that the league should either play without fans or suspend the season. The New York Knicks were the only team that felt the league should keep business as usual until forced to do otherwise by government entities.

Gobert’s positive test changed everything. Fifty-eight members of the Jazz organization were tested Wednesday night and all except for point guard Donovan Mitchell tested negative for coronavirus. That led to some raised eyebrows as there has been a shortage of tests for the general public.

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There’s a lot we don’t know about how things will proceed for the NBA. Several teams, including the Lakers and Clippers, have asked their employees to work from home.

The Lakers held a conference call with players, vice president of basketball operations and general manager Rob Pelinka, and coach Frank Vogel on Thursday afternoon. In it, they were given the basic rules for the next few days. Until Monday, the NBA has asked that they all remain in their markets and not hold any group practices or meetings. The league will reassess those rules on Monday.

As for games? Those are at least a month away. And once they return it’s unclear what their format will be. Will the season pick up where it left off? A source told our Broderick Turner that players were left with the impression that owners wanted to complete the full regular season and postseason after their conference call.

What will that mean for the league calendar? And what about the Summer Olympics in Tokyo?

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We’ll be keeping an eye on all of those questions.

For now let’s catch up on what we’ve reported so far and where things stand for the Lakers.

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Since we last spoke ...

  • Let’s start with basketball. The Lakers had a statement win a week ago when they beat the Milwaukee Bucks behind an inspired performance by LeBron James.
  • The MVP conversation is a natural one to have when the Lakers play the Bucks. Our Bill Plaschke argued that James deserves it over Giannis Antetokounmpo.
  • Anthony Davis’ big second half helped the Lakers prevail over Bucks.
  • At the time, the league was already discussing the possibility of having games without spectators. James was asked postgame how he would feel about playing a game without spectators. He wasn’t interested. James later said that when he was asked the question, he didn’t know that the possibility was already being discussed behind closed doors among league officials. Once he learned more about it, he revised his stance and said he would defer to experts.
  • In Dion Waiters, the Lakers saw a player eager to move past his mistakes. Waiters expressed a desire to look toward the future. Of course, Waiters hasn’t played yet. Having only played in three games this season, Lakers coach Frank Vogel didn’t want to rush him. He was scheduled to play in a G League game on Friday, but the NBA’s development league has also been suspended.
  • On Sunday, the Lakers played the Clippers and finally defeated their cross-hallway rivals.
  • It was a pair of masterful performances by LeBron James in the wins over the Clippers and Bucks.
  • Avery Bradley also made important contributions in those victories.
  • Over the weekend, the NBA asked teams to start planning for how they would handle coronavirus-related issues. They were required to find an infectious disease specialist to consult with them regularly. They were required to implement a plan for testing when that became necessary. On Monday, the first real change was implemented — limiting media access to players by denying access to the locker room before and after games. Media scrums were outlawed. News conferences required that players stand six to eight feet from gathered reporters (though reporters still stood or sat very close to each other). In general, players did not feel that this made them safer. They’d been told by doctors that they would be fine even if they contracted the virus. But they generally understood this wasn’t about themselves. This was also the day when the now-infamous clip of Gobert surfaced during which he touched reporters’ microphones. It’s been interpreted as Gobert disregarding the safety of others. One reporter who was in attendance said at the time he interpreted it as Gobert disregarding the idea that reporters were dangerous to the players.
  • Later that night, in what would be the Lakers’ last game for a while, they lost to the Brooklyn Nets.
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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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