The final countdown to the 2020-21 campaign is underway as the Los Angeles Lakers tipoff their preseason schedule with a clash against the L.A. Clippers at Staples Center.
The NBA champions are back on the court just eight weeks after hoisting the Larry O’Brien trophy in the Orlando bubble. Hence, LeBron James and Anthony Davis are not suiting up in the preseason opener.
“Some of the new guys are still to be determined. We haven’t made final decisions on which guys are going to play which games other than Anthony and LeBron will not play [Friday],” Lakers head coach Frank Vogel said.
The Lakers get to take the court at Staples Center for the first time since March, although no fans will be able to welcome them due to coronavirus (COVID-19) restrictions.
As the circumstances remain extraordinary, the priority for Vogel will be to find the optimal role for his team ahead of fast-approaching Opening Night to the 2020-21 season. The arrival of Montrezl Harrell and Dennis Schroder, the winner and runner-up of the 2020 Sixth Player of the Year Award, undeniably were two big off victories for L.A.
Add proven veterans Wes Matthews and Marc Gasol to the pack and it becomes difficult to disagree that this season’s Lakers seems stronger than last year’s crew, despite losing Rajon Rondo and Dwight Howard, among the others.
But only in theory.
Vogel’s use of the new pieces will be of paramount importance to L.A.’s chances of succeeding in their title defense quest. Schroder’s role emerged as one of the main talking points of the offseason after he all but declared readiness to join James and Anthony Davis among the team’s starters.
The former Oklahoma City Thunder guard averaged 18.9 points and 4.0 assists per game last season, leading the league in scoring off the bench. Vogel needs to figure out whether Schroder has as much to offer in an increased role and, perhaps more importantly, whether he can coexist alongside James on the floor.
But as Vogel will not be able to examine that in the four-time NBA champion’s absence, the head coach can turn his attention to the many other questions that need prompt answers. Can Wes Matthews replace Kentavious Caldwell-Pope in the starting lineup? Is Talen Horton-Tucker ready to contribute “immediately,” as Vogel claimed recently?
Or, should the front office look for another big man to join Gasol on the roster?
Vogel showed he has a knack for tinkering with his rotations — and that he does it well — during the NBA restart. Expect nothing less but an abundance of experiments from the head coach during the Clippers showdown and in the other three preseason games.
Particularly as the 2020-21 season is just 11 days away.
Clippers vs. Lakers
7:00 p.m. PT, Dec. 11, 2020
Staples Center, Los Angeles, California
TV: ESPN, Spectrum SportsNet
Radio: 710 AM ESPN L.A.
Projected Lakers Starting Lineup:
PG: Dennis Schroder
SG: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope
SF: Kyle Kuzma
PF: Montrezl Harrell
C: Marc Gasol
Key Reserves: Alex Caruso, Markieff Morris, Alfonzo McKinnie, Wes Matthews, Talen Horton-Tucker
Projected Clippers Starting Lineup:
PG: Reggie Jackson
SG: Luke Kennard
SF: Paul George
PF: Marcus Morris
C: Serge Ibaka
Key Reserves: Nicolas Batum, Lou Williams, Patrick Beverley, Ivica Zubac
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