The Los Angeles Lakers return to the court for practice on Thursday after an eight-day reprieve during the All-Star Break, in preparation for the team’s contest on Friday against Indiana Pacers at Staples Center.
The time away from the floor was needed, as the Lakers had lost two straight heading into the break and are 3-7 over the team’s last 10 games.
At 24-13 and No. 3 in the Western Conference, the Lakers hope to receive some good news with the eventual return of big man Anthony Davis sometime this month from a right calf strain that forced him to the last nine games. The Lakers have posted a 7-7 record with Davis out of the lineup for various nagging injuries so far this season.
Los Angeles also should get a rejuvenated LeBron James. The 36-year-old, 18-year veteran participated in the All-Star game over the weekend. However, James did not play in L.A.’s final game of the first half of the season at Sacramento last week and received five days of rest after Sunday’s All-Star festivities.
So, how have the defending champs held up through the first half of the season? We take a closer look:
Point guard: Dennis Schröder, secured through a trade with Oklahoma City before the season started, has been as good as advertised. The 27-year-old floor leader gives James a break from running the offense and provides a spark with his scrappy defensive pressure on the ball and his ability to push the pace offensively. Schröder’s averaging 14.5 points, 3.4 rebounds and 4.5 assists a contest. The Lakers are 0-4 in games he did not play this season due to the NBA’s health and safety protocols. Grade: A-minus
Shooting guard: Although he started off the season shooting well, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope cooled considerably. Caldwell-Pope’s averaging 8.7 points and 2.4 rebounds a contest. He shot 46.4 percent from 3-point range in the month of January but dropped to 38.4 percent in February. Caldwell-Pope needs to look for his shot more often and become a bigger part of the offense in the second half of the season. However, Caldwell-Pope has provided energy on the defensive end of the floor. Grade: C-plus
Small forward: James is having an MVP-type year, playing at a high level on both ends of the floor. He leads the Lakers in points (25.8 per game) and assists (8 per game) and is second on the team in rebounds (7.8 per game). He also facilitates the offense and brings energy as a rim protector and defender who anticipates passing lanes well. And James remains one of the best closers in the game. Grade: A
Power forward: Davis has been effective when in the lineup, averaging 22.5 points, 8.4 rebounds and three assists a contest. Davis has eight, double-doubles on the year and the Lakers are 17-6 when he’s in the lineup. The problem for Davis has been staying healthy. He’s missed 14 games this season due to various nagging ailments. Injuries have been an issue for Davis in his past. If Davis cannot stay healthy for the Lakers during the second half of the season --and more importantly in the postseason -- the Lakers could be hard-pressed to repeat as champions. Grade: B-minus
Center: Let’s start with the good. Marc Gasol has done a nice job of helping to facilitate ball movement on offense and communicating on the back end defensively for an L.A. team that’s one of the best defenses in the NBA. However, Gasol has not given the Lakers much scoring punch, averaging just four points and four rebounds a contest in 20 minutes a game. And the Lakers at times still lack the rim protection Dwight Howard and JaVale McGee brought to the floor. Grade: B-minus
Bench: Montrezl Harrell, the reigning Sixth Man of the Year last season, brings energy, grit and scoring in leading the reserves each game. Harrell is averaging13.8 points and 6.4 rebounds a contest. Alex Caruso, Kyle Kuzma, Markieff Morris, Taylor Horton-Tucker and Wesley Matthews have all made key contributions to winning games during the first half of the season, proving why general manager Rob Pelinka worked to build the most depth of any NBA team during the offseason. Grade: A-minus
Coaching: Frank Vogel has done an impressive job of juggling starting lineups when players like Davis and Schröder were out, figuring out ways to get James’ rest when possible and managing the egos of players like Morris and Matthews when they had to cede time to younger players like Horton-Tucker. Due to the short offseason and lack of practice time because of COVID-19, Vogel will have to continue to worry about rest and make sure his team is peaking as they head to the playoffs. So far, so good. Grade: A