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Newsletter: It’s back to the reality of life outside the NBA bubble

LeBron James (23) celebrates with Anthony Davis, left, and Alex Caruso after beating the Rockets on  Sept. 10.
LeBron James (23) celebrates with Anthony Davis, left, and Alex Caruso after beating the Rockets on Thursday night.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

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

I left the NBA’s bubble and reentered civilization this week, returning to a city covered in ashes beneath a dystopian, smoke-filled sky. This has been a year of challenge and tragedy on many fronts, and before I begin this week’s newsletter, I wanted to acknowledge the hardships many of you are enduring because of it.

Being out of the bubble certainly jolts one back to reality. No longer am I in an environment where I know everybody around me is being regularly tested for COVID-19. When I entered the bubble, I exchanged freedom for physical safety. When I left it, I regained freedom and a great deal of uncertainty.

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The NBA’s decision to allow reporters to join the campus was controversial, but they did the players a great service by doing it. Being on the same campus as teams gave us empathy for the mental and physical challenges of that environment.

There were certainly moments during the last two months when I absolutely hated being in there, when the constant gaze of security wore on me or the lack of choice on what to eat, where to go, how to get there became difficult even as I understood the reason for it. I will not miss the sometimes nonsensical limitations on where I could go on this property that I couldn’t leave. I will not miss the mosquitoes that arrived about three weeks into my stay and feasted on my arms and legs.

At the same time, there is plenty I will miss.

A camaraderie developed between those of us who entered the bubble at the start, built over nights by the poolside unwinding after those late Lakers and Clippers games, talking about stories we’d written or basketball we’d seen or what player considered jumping into the gator-infested lake on a dare from his teammates. Together we learned how to navigate the league’s complicated practice schedules when 22 teams were on campus and we all wanted to see as many of them as possible. We delighted in fishing trips together and in the discovery that the league had given us access to one bar. The unforgettable storylines that arose left us with a great sense of responsibility as we chronicled them.

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I will miss my bike rides around campus, waving to coaches Erik Spoelstra or Brad Stevens or any one of what seemed like the Clippers’ entire traveling party as they passed while they made their own loops around the property. It was a treat to get to know some of the support staff with the Lakers and teams around the league as we essentially shared a home for two months. I will miss hearing about a great game happening in another gym and being able to pop my head in to catch the end of it. I will miss the early bubble magic of the Phoenix Suns and the Portland Trail Blazers. I will miss seeing the persistent bond between LeBron James and Anthony Davis, and sharing its details with the outside world.

For the next few weeks, I will cover the Lakers’ playoff run remotely like so many of my colleagues have done for the last two months. I have no doubt I will feel more detached. But covering the bubble was one of the great privileges of my career, and I’m grateful The Times sent me to do it.

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Let’s talk basketball

The Lakers are one win from returning to the conference finals, and so far they have weathered their flaws quite well.

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Part of the reason for that is their focus on defense. It’s why they hired Frank Vogel as coach and why they filled their team with players who knew how to be great defenders.

“I mean, that’s as powerful a weapon as there is in one of these playoff runs,” Vogel said after Thursday night’s game. “It’s as powerful as a superstar. If you have an elite defense, that can be your third star, so to speak. When you have the confidence, you can go 4-5-6 possessions where you’re just squeezing the other team’s offense.”

It’s why the Lakers weren’t concerned as their offense struggled early in the bubble. Their defense has given them time to make offensive adjustments cautiously in a series while still winning.

“I think the most important thing is how we can grow from each game to the next,” James said. “There’s always ways you can get better from game to game no matter how well you play or bad you play. And you have the off days like tomorrow where you watch the film collectively as a group. We see … where we were good, we see where we were not so good, and where we were bad, and how we can get better from that. I think having that growth mindset being able to learn and grow from the wins is even more important than learning from the losses.”

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Since we last spoke ...

  • Our Bill Plaschke writes about the city having potentially two championship teams in the Lakers or Clippers and the Dodgers, but no ability to properly revel in it.
  • Rajon Rondo returned to the Lakers’ lineup, and his first game back was a bit milquetoast.
  • After a Game 1 loss, LeBron James assured everyone that the Lakers were going to figure out how to beat the Houston Rockets. Seeing them up close is what helped.

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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