Prior to Thursday night, the last time the Los Angeles Lakers picked up a meaningful win was over the L.A. Clippers on a Sunday in early March. They were the designated road team, but like the 2019-20 season opener, plenty of Lakers fans filled Staples Center.
Just as their two previous head-to-head meetings, the atmosphere and intensity mirrored that of a playoff matchup. So when the NBA unveiled its restart schedule for the Walt Disney World bubble, the Lakers and Clippers matching up on the first night, there was anticipation but also questions over how it would unfold in a vastly unique setting.
The teams came together for a demonstration during the national anthem but otherwise played focus and edge that was seen during the regular season. When reminded of his comments about enjoying matching up against the Clippers because of the physicality, Anthony Davis said that carried over to the bubble.
“It felt the same. Obviously they didn’t have two guys who really help them out on the second unit in Lou and Montrezl, but they’ve got other guys that can come in and play,” he said. “It still felt like a game back at Staples. It was physical, gritty, guys were getting after it, competing on both ends of the floor. That’s what makes playing them so fun.”
The NBA has taken to piping in crowd noise and music, and also implemented fans virtually on the video boards that line each of the three courts being used for play. The general consensus is the additions have helped, but ultimately aren’t much of a difference maker.
“When we’re out there playing we don’t really notice there aren’t fans at the game. We just go out there and compete, try to get the win,” Davis said. “They did a great job with the crowd noise, especially when scored or got a stop. It got pretty loud. They did a good job with that. Like I said, when we’re out there competing, we just worry about the five guys on the floor and try to get a win.”
LeBron James, who delivered a go-ahead basket and followed it up with game-winning defense on Kawhi Leonard and Paul George during the final possession, echoed Davis’ sentiment about the level of play being at the level of what was seen this season.
“We’re two teams in the same city and two teams fighting for one common goal, and that’s to win a championship and bring it to the city of Los Angeles and our respective fanbase. You have so many competitors on the floor,” James said.
“Going out there and representing the purple and gold, representing Laker Nation, and those guys doing the same thing for their fanbase, no matter what the bubble is — no fans or fans — basketball is basketball and competitive spirit is competitive spirit. We got right back to where we left off.”
Davis makes presence felt
After being poked in the eye during the Lakers’ scrimmage and missing their final exhibition, Davis’ status for the opener of the NBA restart was in some doubt. He did manage to practice but needed to be re-evaluated a final time.
Not only did Davis play without protective glasses he practiced with, he showed no ill-effects of recently experiencing lingering discomfort. He finished with a game-high 34 points to go along with 8 rebounds and 4 assists. Davis additionally connected on a pair of key 3-pointers.
“He just had a helluva game. That’s what he does,” Kyle Kuzma said. “He’s one of the best players in the world, one of the top two or three players in the league.
“That’s what Anthony Davis does. It’s honestly a bonus when he starts hitting threes. He does that every single night defensively and offensively. Tonight his shot fell, and when his shot falls, he’s unguardable.”
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