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Newsletter: How the Lakers moved to within three wins of the NBA title

Lakers guard Rajon Rondo (9) has a few words for an official during Game 1 of the NBA Finals.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

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

Game 2 of the NBA Finals is tonight and things are looking pretty good for the Lakers after a Game 1 thrashing of the Miami Heat.

In the spirit of competition, though, the Lakers are disappointed that they won’t get to play against the fully healthy Miami team, perhaps for the rest of the series. Heat point guard Goran Dragic has a torn plantar fascia and center Bam Adebayo has a neck strain. Both are doubtful for Game 2.

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“You prepare for whoever is out on the floor,” LeBron James said. “There’s going to be five guys in opposing jerseys on the floor, and they’re all dangerous, no matter who’s in the lineup, no matter what the name is. You have to approach it like they all can beat you as a unit, and as individuals they’re on the floor for a reason. We understand that.”

James has experienced both sides of this situation, which is the case with most basketball scenarios for James, given how long he’s been at this. During one of the other nine Finals series’ he played in, against the Golden State Warriors, James’ Cleveland Cavaliers lost Kyrie Irving and Kevin Love, but still were able to win a couple of games. They ultimately lost that series.

“I think every situation is different,” James said. “For us, obviously, losing Kyrie and losing Kevin in that playoff run was detrimental to our success. We were still able to have some success, but we never fully reached the full potential of what our ballclub could be in that run. That’s different from — I can’t correlate that to what today is all about.”

Starting with the 116-98 win in Game 1, James has been trying to keep his teammates from getting ahead of themselves. Even after a blowout win, he was warning about things they’d done wrong.

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We’ll review all that below, but first …

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Let’s talk KCP

It wasn’t that long ago that Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was seen as a tax for Klutch Sports Group in order to help improve the Lakers’ chances of landing James. In the summer of 2017, the Lakers gave Caldwell-Pope a one-year deal worth $17 million that raised some eyebrows.

Fast forward three years and Caldwell-Pope has been a key part of the Lakers’ success. With the Lakers down 13 in Game 1, he made back-to-back threes, one preceded by a steal. Anthony Davis said Caldwell-Pope “saved us.”

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He’s been shooting exceptionally well from three-point range (41.5%) during the playoffs.

“One of the guys who has been here the longest, we’ve been through some ups and downs from my first year here until now and we’re still going through them,” Caldwell-Pope said. “It means a lot for us. It just means that this team is built on a brotherhood. We all stick up for each other. I help my team.

“My teammates help me get out of a shooting slump starting the season. And now we’re here. We build that chemistry from Day 1. We’re together. It’s crazy. I love just being around these guys and the chemistry that we do have on and off the court.”

Since we last spoke ...

  • At long last, the Lakers are back in the NBA Finals. Bill Plaschke wrote, “Home sweet home. After a decade spent wandering through a wasteland of turmoil and tragedy, basketball’s marquee team has regained its familiar spot on the NBA’s biggest stage. Back to the house of the Big Dipper and Mr. Clutch, back to the address of Magic and Kareem, back to the digs of Kobe and Shaq.”
  • In the moments after he’d clinched the Lakers’ first Finals berth in 10 years, James sat on the floor surrounded by confetti thinking about a lot of things.
  • Coach Frank Vogel deserves credit for the way he’s steered the Lakers this season. Columnist Helene Elliott takes a look at his role in the team’s success.
  • When the Heat won the Eastern Conference finals, they opted for no confetti during the postgame trophy presentation. It was symbolic of how they’ve approached this postseason, with a low-frills, high-effort mentality that our Dan Woike warned could be a problem for the Lakers — like the Pistons were for another Lakers team.
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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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