The absence of LeBron James and Anthony Davis has forced the Los Angeles Lakers to rely on a number of different players to get through this stretch. Seemingly everyone on the roster has gotten an opportunity to contribute in a big way and the way certain players have stepped up has led to many wondering just how the Lakers’ rotation will work when healthy.
The starting lineup is seemed to be known as it will almost definitely be Dennis Schroder, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Andre Drummond joining James and Davis in the first five.
The more important question is who will be closing games next to the Lakers’ superstar duo, and Kyle Kuzma is currently unsure of what that will look like.
“Yeah, I always kind of look at the game, after that championship run I always look at the game from a playoff mentality standpoint, how matchups work, how lineups work. And it’s gonna be a little bit different. We don’t really know what a closing lineup is for us this year at all,” Kuzma said following the Lakers loss to the Utah Jazz.
“Obviously it’s gonna be usually AD and Bron and then whoever’s really hot, whoever’s shooting, whoever’s defending, three guards, whatever. So it’s hard to really look at that now but we kind of know the formula of what we want to get to with a healthy closing lineup. But that remains to be seen so far this year with not a lot of playing time and really cohesiveness and a consistent closing lineup. Even when those guys were healthy we shuffled in and out, testing things.”
Head coach Frank Vogel will have a number of options at his disposal, especially with so many players providing different things and playing well at different times. Guys like Markieff Morris and Talen Horton-Tucker have been crucial to the team treading water and it would seem foolish for them to not get legitimate opportunities to close should that level of play continue.
Obviously mainstays such as Schroder, Caldwell-Pope, Kuzma and Caruso are possibilities on the perimeter. Should the team want to go big down the stretch they will have Drummond, Marc Gasol and Montrezl Harrell to choose from as well. Vogel has also maintained trust in Wesley Matthews, but Alfonzo McKinnie seems to make a difference every time he’s gotten a chance, and Ben McLemore can potentially get hotter than anyone on the team when he’s on.
As Kuzma noted, the closing lineup will likely be decided on a game-by-game basis based on matchups, and who’s playing the best. This will lead to a drop in minutes for players, but as far as Kuzma is concerned, that’s what winning a ring will take.
“I think it’s gonna be very interesting to see what we do. I think from the standpoint of not having Bron and AD out there for an extended time, obviously we’ve had a little bit of a closing lineup during this stretch but that all really goes out the window when those two guys are back and healthy so it’s gonna be some tough decisions, it’s gonna be people that are playing really well right now, playing a lot of minutes that those minutes get shifted just from the dynamic of having those two great players out there.
“So the best thing I can say it that it’s all about, at the end of the day, getting to the playoffs and sacrifice. That’s just how you win championships and that’s how you make things work, especially playing with these great players. It will be interesting.”
James doing ‘light work’ on the court
Davis’ return to the Lakers lineup is imminent, but James is still further away. He is, however, putting in the work and getting close to being back.
“Yeah, it’s still light work on the court, but he is doing court work,” Vogel said before Monday night’s game. “Progressing each day. Just trying to do a little bit more with activity each day.”
The Lakers’ top priority for their two stars remains their long-term health so they won’t rush them back in any way. But it looks to be only a matter of time before the team is finally back at full strength.
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