The Los Angeles Lakers have not played in an official basketball game since March 10 when they lost 104-102 to the Brooklyn Nets after LeBron James failed to make an open layup and Anthony Davis missed a game-winning three-pointer later.
Since then, the Lakers have lost Avery Bradley for the rest of the 2019-20 NBA season and Rajon Rondo for at least the next 6-8 weeks due to another hand injury. On top of that, the league will be restarting inside of the Orlando, FL bubble and attempting to successfully pull off one of the most complex plans in professional sports history. The homecourt advantage the Lakers worked for is gone as they will not be back in the comforts of Staples Center for at least another year for now.
If the Lakers still hope to win a championship, they must adapt.
Before the eight ‘regular season’ seeding games commence on July 30, the Lakers will have three scrimmage games from July 23-27. In those games, they will match up against the Dallas Mavericks, Orlando Magic, and Washington Wizards in an attempt to get their legs back under them and begin their ascent back to the dominant team that managed to go 49-14 before the season was put on hold.
Only one of those teams managed to win more than 30 games this season and the Wizards will be without Bradley Beal for the entirety of their time in Orlando, meaning the Lakers are more than capable of going 3-0 in these games. As their chase for their 17th championship resumes, let us take a look at what questions the Lakers will need to answer heading into these three upcoming scrimmages.
How will the Lakers adjust without Avery Bradley and Rajon Rondo?
Bradley opted out of traveling to Orlando with the Lakers in order to ensure the safety of his family and Rondo recently broke his thumb during practice, which will cost him the next 6-8 weeks. While the Lakers will be without Bradley for their entire Orlando run, Rondo is scheduled to return in time for the Western Conference Finals — if the Lakers are fortunate enough to make it that far.
Bradley served as a key cog in the team’s defensive scheme and typically guarded the opponent’s best perimeter player while Rondo served as the bench’s primary playmaker. With those two players out, the team will need to drastically adjust and utilize the depth on their roster. Luckily, they have received reinforcements in the form of JR Smith and Dion Waiters — two very capable scorers in the NBA.
Waiters is a guard that can certainly handle being the primary ball-handler in an offense and while his playmaking skills are not as precise as Rondo’s, his scoring prowess is drastically better. He can utilize the pick-and-roll to either get off-dribble baskets or drive to the lane and create scoring opportunities for his teammates.
Smith will also provide the Lakers with yet another spot-up shooter to go alongside Danny Green and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope while also bringing along his veteran presence. He has playoff experience with James already and will look to bring that knowledge to a Los Angeles team that hopes to make a long playoff run soon.
With the Lakers having a light scrimmage schedule, both Waiters and Smith should have the opportunity to integrate themselves into the offense and carve out roles in the rotation. It is unlikely that the starters will play too many minutes and thus the new additions to the team will have more than enough time to get their feet wet.
Is Kyle Kuzma ready for primetime?
Heading into the season, Kuzma was looked at as the third piece. Fast forward a couple of months later and he was in trade rumors regarding Derrick Rose.
Throughout the season, Kuzma’s play fluctuated drastically night after night. One game he would drop 30 points effortlessly and the next he would fail to score 10. While some of his hardships this season can be credited to Rondo’s inability to run the bench offense effectively, a portion of the blame must also fall upon him.
Kuzma is shooting career-low percentages from both the field (43.2 percent) and beyond the arc (29.7 percent) while playing only 24.6 minutes per game. With Rondo now out of the picture and the All-Star tandem of Davis and James likely not playing too many minutes, Kuzma should have ample time to get things going. Especially matching up against weaker competition, the now healthy Kuzma should be able to show that he has used this time off to improve and better his game.
If he manages to turn some heads during the Lakers scrimmages, he could earn himself even more minutes in the rotation. His ascension to All-Star status might be the key to the Lakers truly dominating on their way to the Larry O’Brien trophy.
Will Frank Vogel play Anthony Davis and LeBron James big minutes?
Vogel will be in a tricky situation here as both James and Davis will undoubtedly need the reps to get back into the rhythm of professional basketball with their supporting cast, but doing so will unfortunately run the risk of injuring them.
Their conditioning is likely not up to par and their bodies are not accustomed to the speed and physicality of an NBA game, meaning their risk of injury is higher than normal. For Davis, who has a reputation of being easily banged up, one bad fall could mean the end of his season and subsequently, their championship hopes.
For James, there might be more on the line this time than ever before.
The Michael Jordan comparisons continue to pile up and Kawhi Leonard’s silent but deadly taunts have become even more daunting but James’ biggest motivator this season might be the loss of his good friend and legend Kobe Bryant.
An injury would derail his 17th season in the league and throw all that he has worked for this season down the drain, so Vogel must think carefully now.
Vogel will have some big decisions for these scrimmages, but if he can manage to successfully manage all of them, the Lakers should be in a perfect position to win.