Lakers Rumors

Seven Of Eight First-Round Playoff Matchups Set

AUGUST 13: Following wins by the Thunder and Clippers on Wednesday night, three Western Conference first-round matchups have now been set, with only the Lakers still awaiting their opponent. Those first-round series are as follows:

  • Los Angeles Lakers (1) vs. Play-in winner (8)
  • Los Angeles Clippers (2) vs. Dallas Mavericks (7)
  • Denver Nuggets (3) vs. Utah Jazz (6)
  • Oklahoma City Thunder (4/5) vs. Houston Rockets (4/5)

We’ll know by the end of Thursday which two teams out of the Trail Blazers, Grizzlies, Suns, and Spurs will be participating in the play-in tournament in the West, but it may be Sunday before the Lakers know their first-round opponent.

AUGUST 12: As a result of the Pacers’ 108-104 win over Houston this afternoon, the four Eastern Conference matchups for the first round of the postseason have been set. They are as follows:

  • Milwaukee Bucks (1) vs. Orlando Magic (8)
  • Toronto Raptors (2) vs. Brooklyn Nets (7)
  • Boston Celtics (3) vs. Philadelphia 76ers (6)
  • Miami Heat (4/5) vs. Indiana Pacers (4/5)

Typically, the Heat and Pacers would be continuing to fight for home court advantage in their series, but the unusual nature of this season means claiming the No. 4 seed instead of No. 5 won’t make much of a difference.

Despite the fact that several teams were within two or three games of one another in the standings when the restart began – or were even tied, like the Pacers and Sixers – the first-round matchups in the East look exactly the same as they did when the season was suspended on March 11.

Over in the West, a small number of teams – including the No. 1 Lakers – are locked into their playoff spots, but most matchups remain up in the air. For now, the most likely pairings are Lakers/play-in winner, Clippers/Mavericks, Nuggets/Jazz, and Rockets/Thunder, but one or more of those could change by Friday.

J.R. Smith Discusses Road Back To NBA

  • Lakers guard J.R. Smith spoke at length about his road back to the NBA with Kyle Goon of the Southern California NewsGroup. The 34-year-old sharpshooter discussed the role his father, Earl Smith Jr. played in getting him back to the league. “If you ain’t gonna play, now you gotta find something to do,” Earl said he told J.R. “I thought, ‘Get your ass in shape, go to L.A. Do your thing.” Smith has not played often in the team’s seeding games in Orlando but could be a key player in the postseason.

Lakers Notes: Rotation, McGee, LeBron, Rondo

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).

NBA Announces Finalists For 2019/20 Awards

The NBA has announced the finalists for several awards as the seeding games on the Orlando campus move forward and the postseason nears. It was announced in July that all awards for the 2019/20 season would be based on games up until March 11, when the coronavirus pandemic shuttered play. Media members made their votes before the seeding games began on July 30.

NBA Most Valuable Player Finalists:

NBA Defensive Player of the Year:

NBA Rookie of the Year:

NBA Most Improved Player:

NBA Sixth Man of the Year:

NBA Coach of the Year:

  • Mike Budenholzer (Bucks)
  • Billy Donovan (Thunder)
  • Nick Nurse (Raptors)

The winners for the awards will be announced during the NBA playoffs after the seeding games period concludes on August 14.

Kuzma Racking Up 3-Pointers

Russell Westbrook missed Thursday’s game against the Lakers, but the Rockets don’t anticipate him sitting out for long. Westbrook, who is dealing with a quad contusion, is expected to play Sunday against the Kings, coach Mike D’Antoni told Tim MacMahon of ESPN (Twitter link) and other media members. Fellow guard Eric Gordon, who hasn’t played in any games since the restart due to a sprained ankle, is expected to return sometime before the end of the seeding games, MacMahon adds.

  • The Lakers have shot just 24.3% from long range since the resumption of play, but forward Kyle Kuzma has been one of the exceptions, Kyle Goon of the Orange County Register notes. Kuzma is averaging 14.4 PPG while making nearly half (12 for 26) of his 3-point attempts. “I’m a little more healthier, but I’ve had time to really just put in work,” he said. Kuzma is eligible for a rookie scale extension after the season.

Waiters Getting Steady Minutes

  • Dion Waiters has been getting steady playing time with the Lakers as Rajon Rondo mends from a thumb injury, Kyle Goon of the Orange County Register notes. Waiters is averaging 10 PPG during the restart despite shooting poorly from 3-point range. “Situation like that, you just try to take full advantage of it ’til Rondo get back and things like that,” Waiters said.  The enigmatic guard was signed by the Lakers for the remainder of the season just prior to the suspension of play in March.

LeBron To Sit On Thursday; Westbrook Also Unlikely To Play

Lakers star LeBron James will sit out Thursday night’s game against the Rockets due to soreness in his groin, the team announced in this afternoon’s injury report (Twitter link via Bill Oram of The Athletic).

James’ groin ailment probably isn’t anything for Lakers fans to worry about. With the No. 1 spot in the Western Conference locked up, the team has little reason to ride its star players hard before the postseason begins on August 17. The Lakers were also in action on Wednesday, so LeBron will be sitting the second half of the back-to-back set.

Meanwhile, the Rockets may be without one of their stars on Thursday night as well. Russell Westbrook is listed as questionable due to a right quad contusion, with a source telling Tim MacMahon of ESPN (Twitter link) that the All-Star guard will likely sit out vs. the Lakers.

There’s no indication that Westbrook’s injury is serious either, though these last few seeding games are a little more important for Houston than they are for Los Angeles. The Rockets are currently the No. 6 seed in the West, but they’re tied with the fifth-seeded Thunder and a half-game behind the No. 4 Jazz.

The Rockets will have two days off before facing Sacramento on Sunday, so we’ll see if Westbrook is ready to roll by that point.

Rondo Begins Daily Testing In Florida

  • Lakers head coach Frank Vogel told reporters on Wednesday that Rajon Rondo has begun daily coronavirus testing after returning to Florida to rehab, per ESPN’s Dave McMenamin (Twitter link). Assuming Rondo tests negative for seven consecutive days before re-entering the NBA’s campus, he’ll have to do a four-day quarantine upon returning. That means he could theoretically rejoin the Lakers by the time the postseason begins, though he may not be ready to play by then.

Rajon Rondo Returning To Florida To Rehab Off Campus

Veteran Lakers point guard Rajon Rondo will be returning to Florida on Wednesday, per Dave McMenamin of ESPN. While discussing Rondo’s new travel plans, head coach Frank Vogel mentioned that the former four-time All-Star will not immediately return to the NBA’s restart campus in Orlando to quarantine.

According to McMenamin, the plan is for Rondo to continue his rehab close to the NBA’s campus. The veteran point guard fractured his right thumb in a team practice three weeks ago, and underwent surgery to address the injury. At the time, the team projected a six-to-eight-week absence for him.

Rondo’s injury has created more rotation minutes for guards Alex Caruso and Dion Waiters. In the Lakers’ three Orlando games, Waiters is averaging 20.7 MPG and Caruso is averaging 24.9.

Though the 34-year-old Rondo isn’t the defender he once was, the Lakers could still benefit from his playmaking and defensive rebounding acumen in short bursts. Los Angeles is hurting for additional backcourt bodies — the team will be pursuing its 17th title this summer without nominal starting point guard Avery Bradley, who opted out of the season restart due to family health concerns.

Darren Collison: Rumors Of Midseason Comeback Were Overstated

After making a surprise retirement announcement during the summer of 2019, veteran point guard Darren Collison was said to be mulling the idea of coming out of retirement to join either the Lakers or Clippers earlier this year. However, Collison – who elected to stay retired – said during an appearance on the A Minute Til 6 podcast (video link) that rumors of a comeback were overstated.

“To keep it 100, they overhyped the whole thing,” Collison said. “I wasn’t even thinking about coming back. … Mentally, I just wasn’t in that right frame of mind. I’m still trying to work some things out in my life and trying to help the youth out as well. I always felt like after this season, yeah, I’ll assess everything else. But this season I just never thought about coming back.”

An appearance at a Lakers/Rockets game in early February alongside Lakers owner Jeanie Buss fueled speculation that Collison might want to team up with LeBron James and Anthony Davis. However, Collison said during his A Minute Til 6 appearance that he was just at that game to watch his friend Russell Westbrook in action.

Reports of Collison’s potential return persisted for weeks in January and February, so if he never seriously considered the idea, it’s odd that he didn’t squash those rumors at the time. Still, it wouldn’t have made a lot of sense for him to sign a prorated minimum salary contract after potentially passing up an eight-figure salary last summer.

Collison, who will turn 33 later this month, played well for the Pacers in 2018/19, with 11.2 PPG and 6.0 APG on .467/.407/.832 shooting in 76 games as the club’s starting point guard, so his retirement was unexpected. He said at the time that he wanted to dedicate more time to volunteer work and his Jehovah’s Witnesses ministry.

Based on his latest comments, it doesn’t sound as if Collison has entirely ruled out the possibility of seeking an NBA return at some point — if he does decide to come out of retirement, he’d be an intriguing option for teams in need of a veteran point guard.