Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has been one of the most durable players on the Los Angeles Lakers for several years, but it’s been especially true during a season that has seen so many players miss games due to injury. Caldwell-Pope has played in 63 of the Lakers’ 68 games, the third-highest number on the team this season.
Because of this, he has witnessed firsthand all of the ups and downs that have come during the 2020-21 season. He was there when the Lakers were 22-7 and near the top of the Western Conference standings, and he was there when they officially fell into the play-in tournament against the Portland Trail Blazers.
The Lakers have played four consecutive games against Western Conference playoff opponents, and he said that each of them has felt like a playoff game as they do everything they can to move back to No. 6 in the standings. “Of course. We don’t like where we’re at in the standings, there’s definitely a focus there, motivation,” Caldwell-Pope said. “We want to at least finish top six, which we still have a chance to do.
“But yeah, it’s just a sense of motivation, if you give us that edge, we’re fighting for something right before playoffs. This is what we got to do, we got to buckle down and just limit our mistakes and try to just play Laker basketball. We got to get back to that, which we haven’t been this stretch of games. I feel like the last two games we’ve played Laker basketball.”
Part of getting back to Laker basketball will be getting LeBron James and Dennis Schroder healthy and back in the lineup. Caldwell-Pope spoke specifically about James and his mindset.
“I feel like he’ll be playoff ready. The rest, the recovery, we’ve been through this situation before when he’s came back fully healthy. Just seeing his workouts, he’s really putting in that work to get himself back together 100% and he’s showing it in his workouts. He’s going hard in drills, dunking the ball, so just seeing him back we’re very excited.”
The Lakers still have a chance — albeit a slim one — to get out of the seventh spot. With only four games left, they need to win two more games than the Trail Blazers. If they go 4-0, the Trail Blazers must go 2-2 or worse for them to fall back down.
That appears to be the goal of the Lakers in their final four games. And while they can’t take any opponent for granted, they will have an easier slate than the team they’re trying to leapfrog. They face the New York Knicks, Houston Rockets, Indiana Pacers and New Orleans Pelicans, and should have James back for at least three of those.
Caldwell-Pope feels confident in team’s defense
The Lakers have been a defense-first team for the last two seasons, and it’s an identity that defined their championship run in 2020. Caldwell-Pope reiterated his confidence in the team on that end of the floor after a solid performance in Sunday night’s win over the Suns.
“We’re very confident. We lean our hat on that end and like you said, I felt like this was one of my best defensive games. I feel like I was just engaged the whole game, just ready. Something just clicked, it’s playoff time and we got to get these games. We got to buckle down defensively, which we lean our hat on always. We just got to be able to maintain it.”
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