The Lakers goal of winning their first NBA title in 10 years resumes Thursday.
After the NBA was paused for more than four months, the Lakers, who are atop the Western Conference with a record of 49-14, will play the second-place Clippers (44-20) at Walt Disney World near Orlando in their bubble debut at 6 p.m. PT.
Lakers coach Frank Vogel said he intends to use this game as a measuring stick of sorts, even though the Clippers will be without Lou Williams and Montrezl Harrell, while Patrick Beverley is listed as questionable.
“It’s the first of the seeding games and our mission with these eight games is to get ready for the playoffs and be as healthy as possible,” Vogel said. “But we do have great respect for their organization and the team they put together. They’re one of the best teams in the league. So, more than anything, I think it’s going to be a great measuring stick for where we’re at. Obviously, we still have a long way to go until we’re playoff ready. And this -- you don’t sharpen yourself as well against teams that are a lesser opponent as you would a great team. So it’s definitely going to be a good test.“
The Lakers aren't at full strength either. Rajon Rondo (fractured right thumb) is out. Anthony Davis, who was poked in the right eye in Saturday's scrimmage, is questionable, though he fully participated in Wednesday's practice and said he plans to play Thursday.
Danny Green said he doesn't think he'll have nerves in his first game in 142 days.
“No, I don’t think so," Green said. "I think the excitement is just more so for that first scrimmage. Everybody here is not 100 percent healthy, not everybody has their full roster. Obviously, you want to play everybody with their full roster, but at the end of the day, it’s another opportunity for us to get better."
Green, however, added that even though the Clippers are missing some of their depth, they're still going to be a huge challenge with superstars Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. The Clippers are 5 1/2 games behind the Lakers.
“Regardless who is on the floor for them, they are a very good basketball club," Green said. "So, yeah, we’re excited to play again and give your fans excitement. They may not be able to watch us in person, but we know they are back home rooting us on and cheering for us and helping us from on the virtual TV screen.”
The Lakers had hit their stride before the season was paused March 11 because of the COVID-19 pandemic. They had big wins over the Milwaukee Bucks on March 6 and the Clippers on March 8. In their 112-103 win over the Clippers, Anthony Davis and LeBron James combined for 58 points.
But Green doesn’t just want the Lakers to pick up where they left off.
“The goal is to be better,” Green said. “We were good. We weren’t where we wanted to be then either. We played good basketball. We lost to Brooklyn before the hiatus so we have that same focus like we are playing Milwaukee or the Clippers and continue to get better. We know we have to be better than that to win and be able to be the last team standing.”
The Lakers will get their first real look Thursday at Dion Waiters, who they signed in March after waiving Troy Daniels, and JR Smith, who they acquired in July after Avery Bradley opted out of the resumed season. Both Waiters and Smith played well in the team's scrimmages and Vogel said he thinks they'll be key pieces to the team's playoff run.
"That’s going to be one of the bigger goals of these eight games is just seeing exactly how those guys fit in and what they look like with different combinations of the guys who have already been here," Vogel said. "We had some very encouraging signs with both of them in the first three scrimmage games and in all the practices that we’ve had, but it’s a different animal when you’re playing meaningful games. So we’ll continue to see how all that plays out."
Green said the players who are a part of the 22-team restart have had meetings over the last week to discuss how they plan to fight for social justice inside the bubble.
Davis added Wednesday that the team was going to have a meeting that night to solidify their plans ahead of Thursday.
"I know the Lakers organization [has] a couple other things that we want to do, and taking a knee is one of them, but we haven’t decided," Davis said. "We kind of threw some ideas out there today in film sessions and we’re going to come together as an organization and figure out what we decide to do. We’re going to get back into a meeting room and discuss what’s a final decision."