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Newsletter: So far Lakers have been minimally affected by COVID-19 pandemic

Lakers forward Anthony Davis while Spurs players try to stop him.
Lakers forward Anthony Davis goes up for a dunk against the Spurs on Thursday at Staples Center. So far the Lakers have been minimally affected by the COVID-19 pandemic during the new season.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

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

Frank Vogel has been waiting on this.

He was in the bubble longer than most, seeing what it took to keep NBA players and staff safe while COVID-19 raged just outside the Disney World gates in Florida.

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So when two players were quickly scrapped from his roster in just the second game of the preseason, Vogel took it in stride.

“That’s the norm for the NBA season outside the bubble. It’s been an expectation for our team that it’s going to be abnormal to be at full strength … there are going to be guys out — a lot,” Vogel said that night. “We just have to get used to the fact that it’s going to be normal for this season league-wide.”

Is this the new normal for the NBA right now?

I spoke to a handful of league executives Monday and they told me they hoped the league would add players to rosters. They expected stricter rules. One said he hoped the NBA would press pause on the season until a significant number of players and staff could get hands on vaccines.

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That, by the way, will create another set of problems. One executive expressed concern about the number of players and staff willing to get the vaccine once it’s offered (or mandated).

So far the Lakers have been relatively untouched. Alex Caruso missed four games because of a close contact who tested positive and trainer Nina Hsieh couldn’t attend a game because of problems with a test (she was later cleared).

But it’s coming — it seems inevitable.

Games might continue to get postponed, players could leave the rotation and, hopefully, if someone catches the virus it’s not serious.

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That’s the deal the NBA and its players made this year in an effort to keep their business going as best as possible under the circumstances.

Be ready for it to end up on the Lakers’ doorstep at some point.

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Text line is open

▶ Some people think the Lakers defense is weaker than last year, and as a result, they won’t win again. What do you think?
—Erwin Washington

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▶ Will the Lakers acquire a rim protector like Dwight or JaVale did last year? We need a shot blocker besides AD. This was huge for us last year.
—Oscar Diaz in West Covina

▶ Hey Dan, it’s Anthony from Glendale. I’ve noticed that the squad this year has similar numbers through 11 games compared to last year. I know it might be too early but do you feel they’re performing as well as last year considering the different players?

Not a lot of believers in the Lakers’ defensive numbers through the first few weeks of the season, it seems.

A traditional shot-blocking big man is still probably the most obvious hole on the roster, and I think it’s hard to know how much that’s actually mattered so far. And I think a better question than rim protection is how they’ll handle the league’s best post players.

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The Lakers’ defensive numbers are great — one of the best in the league so far — and it’s a safe bet they could be playing with even more energy and intensity if they wanted to.

But the NBA’s baseball-style scheduling means that after Tuesday’s game with the Rockets in Houston, the Lakers will have played more than half of their games against three teams (Houston, San Antonio and Memphis).

No disrespect intended to Memphis’ Jonas Valanciunas, the Lakers haven’t exactly had to deal with Ewing and Olajuwon. Maybe the Lakers are just good against those teams?

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Friday will be an interesting test against New Orleans with Steven Adams and Zion Williamson clogging the paint and pounding the glass.

Some quick takes

▶ With COVID raging throughout LA do you believe that fans should not expect to be able to attend any games this year. We’ve seen some teams allow a limited number of fans to attend in other cities — and I wonder if the Lakers organization would consider such a model .
—Irv Bauman

I’d be surprised if it happens before the playoffs, though the league had some optimism that late in the season was possible depending on the vaccine rollout.

▶ I think the Lakers played really well on Sunday against Houston. Not sure you can answer it, but my question is how the Lakers can stay consistently fired up. That may not be realistic, but could they try to use their bench guys a little more, not a bad idea in these protocol days.
—Ron Barak, Pacific Palisades

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LeBron James has always been driven off energy from fans, and without them, it’s certainly been tough. But I think the Lakers’ mentality and experience dealing with flat environments should help them navigate this season.

▶ Hi. Question: Mask police here. … Would someone please ask Quinn Cook to keep his mask on and over his nose while he’s on the bench? He’s constantly got it either off, or below his nose. We don’t want anyone getting sick due to that.
—Chuck W, Redondo Beach

I completely expect the league to start to be much stricter in enforcing this kind of stuff.

▶ How much practice time will the Lakers have this season compared to “normal” seasons? I ask being curious how they’ll sculpt what is a different team and roster from last season.
—Kyle, Beaverton, Ore.

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Practice? We are talking about practice?

It’ll be less than normal because of the short layoff and the pandemic. Luckily, the Lakers’ ability to use film sessions as a substitute has been widely celebrated.

Song of the Week

“King of the Rodeo,” Kings of Leon

Man, I need to listen to something happy.

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Most of what’s been on my speakers lately has been pretty quiet, if not a little dreary.

For this week’s song, I’m going to go back in time to 2004 (Oh my God, how is this song 16 years old, what happened to time?) and cue up Kings of Leon.

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Kings of Leon perform “King of the Rodeo”

They just released new music and there’s some buzz that more could be on the way.

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This song has a special place in my mind. I spent plenty of nights in my early 20s loaded in a car with my friends headed out for a night somewhere either in or around Chicago, and this was always one of my favorite songs to hear in the car on the ride there.

Ah, going out and having good times — here’s to that, like Kings of Leon, coming back in 2021 too.

Since we last spoke ...

Until next time...

As always, pass along your thoughts to me at daniel.woike@latimes.com, and please consider subscribing if you like our work!

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