Dribbles: LeBron shines and J.R. didn't pack enough underwear; Lakers are back

By Sam Amico , |

Random dribbles following the Lakers' 108-104 scrimmage loss to the Dallas Mavericks inside the Orlando bubble on Thursday:

1. Is it just me, or does LeBron James look more focused on distributing the ball than he has at any other point in his career?

2. Yes, I know. James has always been one of the game's premier passers, rivaling Larry Bird as the best forward ever when the idea is finding the open man. If you're open, LeBron will deliver. That hasn't changed. But James' patience and smoothness in directing the Lakers' offense was even better than I remember it.

3. Factor in all of the time off ... and the fact James is four months closer to turning 36 than when we saw him last .... and, well, it's just LeBron being LeBron. He knows the game, he works endlessly on improving, he values keeping his teammates involved. Those reasons and more are why James still gives your team the best chance at winning.

4. James only played in the first half, finishing with a routine 12 points, five assists and three rebounds in 15 minutes. Anthony Davis also played just the first half and also finished with 12 points. Davis scored the Lakers' first four points.

5. One of James' baskets was a dunk that put an exclamation on the end of the second quarter. It gave the Lakers a 55-44 lead at halftime, before most of the best players on both teams took the rest of the night off.

6. LeBron to reporters after the game: "We want to just try to get better. We’re going to use this moment as a training camp to continue to implement our identity. Our identity is to defend, share the ball, push the tempo, play together. I think we were able to accomplish that for as close to 40 minutes as possible.”

7. OK, about that beard. If you saw the game, you likely immediately noticed that LeBron let it grow out. You probably also noticed that it's gray (OK, white) on the sides. No word on whether LeBron intends to visit the bubble barbershop. But you can be sure that if things go well for the Lakers once the real season resumes, he won't change a thing.

8. Lakers coach Frank Vogel kept the starters the same as when the season was suspended, with one exception -- as Kentavious Caldwell-Pope started at shooting guard in place of Avery Bradley, who opted out.

9. The Lakers are undoubtedly a different team with Caldwell-Pope out there. They're not as good defensively, but they do seem to have even more opportunities to score. Bradley's absence will mean more minutes for several players, but Caldwell-Pope is the best catch-and-shoot guy of the bunch. He should help space the floor for James and Davis.

10. Still, Bradley set the tone defensively and the Lakers will need someone to step up in that department. Again, this is where James comes in. Without any fans in the building, you could hear James calling out defensive assignments, directing his teammates to get to the right spots on the court.

11. More LeBron: "You have to create your own energy here. We understand that. There’s no fans. Our wonderful fans are watching this game on the TVs, on the laptops, phones, iPads, whatever the case may be. So it’s about us creating our own energy ... understanding what we’re here for, and that’s to get better.”

12. James, Davis and Caldwell-Pope are all represented by Cleveland native Rich Paul of Klutch Sports Agency. So are J.R. Smith and Dion Waiters. So it's not a huge surprise that the Lakers were willing to take a shot on Smith and Waiters when no one else would. And hey, why not? The Klutch connection has worked out well so far.

13. Smith looked like a guy who hasn't played a game in nearly two years and was just sort of out there. He looked like that a lot at the end of his run with Cleveland, too. But let's give the man some time. Worst that happens is he gives a reason or two for everyone to smile.

14. Already, Smith admitted he didn't pack enough underwear. "Honestly, I packed like seven because I thought I’d be good for once a day,” Smith said. “But I ain’t calculate all the showers in between everything that I be doing. So I’ve been running through (them) in like two, three days."

15. Ah, yes. Good to have you back, J,.R.

16. Waiters had a few decent moments, filling up the basket a couple of times as his teammates celebrated from the bench by yelling his nickname -- "Cheese!" That's short for cheesesteak, the famous sandwich from Waiters' hometown of Philadelphia.

17. What no one probably yelled was that Waiters looked like he may have eaten too many of those cheesesteaks during the hiatus. To be fair, it's just the first scrimmage. Some guys take great pride at playing their way back into shape.

18. Seth Curry led the Mavericks with 23 points in 16 minutes. Resident superstar Luka Doncic added 14 points, six assists and five rebounds in 17 minutes. And towering center Boban Marjanovic finished with 17 points and 13 boards, and even went 1-of-1 on 3-pointers.

19. Another thing to consider ... the Lakers could approach the "regular season" of seeding games almost as they would the preseason. They could finish 3-5 and the only way they would blow the top seed in the Western Conference is if the second-place Clippers finished 8-0.

20. The Lakers' next scrimmage is Saturday vs. the Orlando Magic at 9 a.m. Pacific time. That's noon Eastern for those of you who may be interested in checking it out on NBA TV.