The Lakers have wrapped up the top seed in the West, but they haven’t looked like the team they were before the break, writes Joe Vardon of The Athletic. Saturday’s loss to the Pacers dropped L.A. to 2-4 in Orlando, and the problems go beyond a mediocre record.
Avery Bradley opted out of the restart, leaving a huge hole in the perimeter defense, and Rajon Rondo was lost to thumb surgery. Newcomers J.R. Smith and Dion Waiters were both left on the bench against Indiana, while Danny Green sat out the game with a sore hip. That meant Alex Caruso started, with Jared Dudley, Quinn Cook and rookie Talen Horton-Tucker seeing back-up minutes.
“This is a different situation than any situation I’ve been in, so it’s kind of hard to say, ‘OK, playoffs are right around the corner, this is where we’re gonna be.’ We’re literally in a bubble. It’s kind of hard to explain,” LeBron James said after the game. “Obviously you want to be playing great basketball going into the playoffs. It’s exactly what you should be doing and what you want to do.”
There’s more on the Lakers:
- Center JaVale McGee was back on the court Saturday after being benched in Thursday’s loss, but he turned in another sub-par performance with five points and four rebounds in 13 minutes, observes Anthony Slater of The Athletic. McGee hasn’t been the same since the hiatus, and the starting lineup hasn’t been effective in the five games he has played in Orlando. “That lineup has struggled, but I don’t feel like JaVale has been off his game,” said coach Frank Vogel. “In fact, when we had our intrasquad scrimmages before scrimmages against other teams, we were keeping stats on all our scrimmages and he was shooting 85 percent in those games. So I’m not worried about his play at all.”
- James was one of the first players to speak out against the idea of playing in empty arenas when the idea was being considered in March, but he’s adapting to the atmosphere at Walt Disney World, notes Mark Medina of USA Today. James calls it a “very weird dynamic” and said he hasn’t played without fans since before high school. “I definitely love playing in front of the fans. The fans are what make the game,” he said. “Without the fans, I wouldn’t be who I am today. To all the fans out there that come watch me play, I miss you guys and hopefully someday I can get back to that interaction.”
- The Lakers are hopeful that Rondo can rejoin the team sometime in the first round of the playoffs, according to Chris Haynes of Yahoo Sports (Twitter link).