Lakers Notes: LeBron, S. Johnson, Vogel

LeBron James started his second game of the season at center Friday night, and that could be the lineup tweak that helps the Lakers survive until Anthony Davis returns, writes Kyle Goon of The Orange County Register. James continued his recent hot streak with 43 points and 14 rebounds, and the added spacing created plenty of opportunities for his teammates.

“This could be something that makes the game easier for him,” coach Frank Vogel said. “He’s not wrestling so much and there’s more space for him to be a roller, there’s just a lot of positives to that. Can’t really get away with it with certain matchups on the other end and obviously when AD comes back he’s going to play a load at the five and then we can play this smaller lineup as well.”

The small-ball approach is familiar for point guard Russell Westbrook, who was with the Rockets when they adopted a center-less lineup two seasons ago. Vogel doesn’t want to make that type of commitment, saying the decision on when to use LeBron in the middle will depend on matchups.

“You play Houston, Christian Wood at center, that’s a clear, ‘Yeah, let’s put Bron at center.’ That’s an easy one,” Vogel explained. “Next game, Steven Adams, biggest, strongest guy in the league; let’s play Dwight (Howard) at center. That’s an easy one. These next few games in the middle, there’s gonna be a lot of in-between types of decisions that we have to make on a game-by-game basis.”

There’s more from Los Angeles:

  • James marked his 37th birthday this week, but his performance suggests he still has a few good years left, notes Bill Oram of The Athletic. There are two considerations that are likely to delay LeBron’s retirement — he needs about two more seasons to threaten the career scoring record held by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and he’s two years away from getting the opportunity to play in the NBA at the same time as his son. “I’m on the other side of the hill,” James said, “so we’ll see where the game takes me. We’ll see where my body takes me and my mind. As long as my mind stays fresh and my body stays with that, I can play the game.”
  • Stanley Johnson got to live out his childhood dream of playing for the Lakers when they signed him to a hardship contract, per Jovan Buha of The Athletic. Now he has a chance to stick with the team for the rest of the season, likely filling an open roster spot once the expected Rajon Rondo trade is completed. “Stanley is huge in what we’re trying to do,” said assistant coach David Fizdale. “With his motor and with his defensive intensity and prowess, we can really use that right now.”
  • The Lakers’ poor performance during the five games while Vogel was in the health and safety protocols should boost his job security, Buha states in a separate story.
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