Entering Thursday’s contest with the Dallas Mavericks and (somewhat) comfortably sitting at No. 5 in the Western Conference at 35-23 with 14 games left in the regular season, preparation for the defense of their NBA title begins in earnest for the Los Angeles Lakers.
Barring any setbacks after a full practice on Wednesday, Anthony Davis is expected to return to the starting lineup after a more than two-month hiatus due to a right calf strain on the road against the Mavericks on Thursday.
Davis said that he expects teammate LeBron James to return in the next few weeks from a right, high-ankle sprain suffered March 20 against the Atlanta Hawks.
The rest of the Lakers did a nice job of keeping the Lakers afloat during the two superstars’ absence, with Los Angeles 18-17 without Davis and 6-9 with James out of the lineup.
But Thursday is the first real opportunity for Lakers head coach Frank Vogel to start the process of figuring out chemistry between Davis and new addition Andre Drummond, along with potential starting lineups and rotations off the bench that could make sense down the road.
“That stuff takes time,” Vogel said about Davis and Drummond playing together for the first time. “It’s going to happen mostly in games for us, unfortunately, and there’s going to be some speed bumps along the way. We expect that. But I think having a little bit of a relationship from USA Basketball, and AD (Davis) playing with Dwight (Howard and JaVale (McGee) last year in our system will make him very familiar to Drum’s role.
“Obviously, Andre will have to get used to playing alongside AD in our system. It’s just one of those things that’s going to take time, and we have two great players that will figure it out on the fly.”
If the playoffs were to start today, the Lakers would face a first-round matchup the Denver Nuggets. Swingman Kyle Kuzma has already started the process of preparing for those postseason games.
“After the championship run, I always kind of look at the game from a playoffs mentality standpoint,” Kyle Kuzma said. “How matchups work and how lineups work. And it’s going to be a little bit different. We don’t really know what a closing lineup is for us this year at all. Obviously, it’s going to be AD and LeBron, and then whoever is hot, whoever is defending – three guards – whoever.
“It’s hard to really look at that now, but we kind of know the formula of what we want to get to for a healthy closing lineup.”
Davis said one of the benefits of making sure that he’s fully healthy before coming back is the Lakers will be healthy heading into the playoffs, particularly with teams like the Nuggets, the Los Angeles Clippers and the Brooklyn Nets dealing with injuries.
“A lot of guys around the league aren’t healthy,” Davis said. “A lot of teams aren’t healthy. So, for us for the most part being healthy -- I’m 100 percent healthy. And we’ve got LeBron coming back as well, and he’s going to be 100 percent healthy. So, I think we put ourselves in a good position.”