Lakers dismantle Pelicans in second half for fifth straight win

  • The Lakers’ Kyle Kuzma knocks a rebound away from the Pelicans’ Josh Hart during Friday’s game at Staples Center. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • The Lakers’ LeBron James (23) moves the ball up court as the Pelicans’ Steven Adams (12) defends during their NBA game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, Friday, January 15, 2021. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • The Lakers’ Montrezl Harrell (15) looks to pass as the Pelicans’ Nicolo Melli (20) defends during their NBA game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, Friday, January 15, 2021. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • The Lakers’ Anthony Davis (3) looks to pass as the Pelicans’ Steven Adams (12) defends during their NBA game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, Friday, January 15, 2021. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • The Pelicans’ Brandon Ingram (14) shoots as the Lakers’ Anthony Davis (3) defends during their NBA game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, Friday, January 15, 2021. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • The Lakers’ LeBron James (23) grabs a rebound away from the Pelicans’ Steven Adams (12) during their NBA game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, Friday, January 15, 2021. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • New Orleans Pelicans forward Brandon Ingram (14) shoots over Los Angeles Lakers forward Anthony Davis during the first quarter of an NBA basketball game Friday, Jan. 15, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 15: Brandon Ingram #14 of the New Orleans Pelicans offensive foul on Anthony Davis #3 of the Los Angeles Lakers during the first half at Staples Center on January 15, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

  • The Pelicans’ Brandon Ingram (14) fouls the Lakers’ Anthony Davis (3) on his way to the hoop during their NBA game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, Friday, January 15, 2021. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • The Lakers’ Montrezl Harrell (15) dunks the ball during their NBA game against the Pelicans at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, Friday, January 15, 2021. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • The Lakers’ Anthony Davis (3) shoots as Pelicans’ Nicolo Melli (20) and Eric Bledsoe (5) defend during their NBA game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, Friday, January 15, 2021. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • The Lakers’ Anthony Davis (3) shoots as the Pelicans’ Steven Adams (12) defends during their NBA game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, Friday, January 15, 2021. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • The Lakers’ Anthony Davis (3) blocks the shot of the Pelicans’ Zion Williamson (1) during their NBA game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, Friday, January 15, 2021. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • The Lakers’ Dennis Schroder (17) dives for a loose ball as the Pelicans’ Nickeil Alexander-Walker (6) defends during their NBA game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, Friday, January 15, 2021. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • The Lakers’ Anthony Davis shoots during Friday’s game against the Pelicans at Staples Center. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • The Lakers’ Dennis Schroder (17) passes the ball as the Pelicans’ Eric Bledsoe (5) defends during their NBA game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, Friday, January 15, 2021. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • The Lakers’ LeBron James (23) passes the ball during their NBA game against the Pelicans at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, Friday, January 15, 2021. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • The Lakers’ LeBron James (23) wipes his face during their NBA game against the Pelicans at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, Friday, January 15, 2021. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • The Lakers’ Anthony Davis (3) blocks the shot of the Pelicans’ Zion Williamson (1) during their NBA game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, Friday, January 15, 2021. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • The Pelicans’ Nickeil Alexander-Walker (6) attempts to keep the ball inbounds as the Lakers’ LeBron James (23) defends during their NBA game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, Friday, January 15, 2021. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • The Pelicans’ Zion Williamson (1) dunks the ball during their NBA game against the Lakers at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, Friday, January 15, 2021. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • The Lakers’ Anthony Davis (3) shoots a 3-point shot as the Pelicans’ Steven Adams (12) defends during their NBA game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, Friday, January 15, 2021. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 15: Head coach Frank Vogel watches play against the New Orleans Pelicans during the first half at Staples Center on January 15, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 15: LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers keep the ball from Zion Williamson #1 of the New Orleans Pelicans during the first half at Staples Center on January 15, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 15: Zion Williamson #1 of the New Orleans Pelicans pivots around Anthony Davis #3 of the Los Angeles Lakers during the first half at Staples Center on January 15, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 15: Zion Williamson #1 of the New Orleans Pelicans scores on a layup during the first half against the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center on January 15, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 15: Brandon Ingram #14 of the New Orleans Pelicans loses his dribble as Dennis Schroder #17 of the Los Angeles Lakers falls during the first half at Staples Center on January 15, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 15: Anthony Davis #3 of the Los Angeles Lakers scores over Zion Williamson #1 of the New Orleans Pelicans during the first half at Staples Center on January 15, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 15: Dennis Schroder #17 of the Los Angeles Lakers drives to the basket past Eric Bledsoe #5 of the New Orleans Pelicans during the first half at Staples Center on January 15, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 15: Dennis Schroder #17 of the Los Angeles Lakers dives for the ball in front of Nickeil Alexander-Walker #6 of the New Orleans Pelicans and LeBron James #23 during the first half at Staples Center on January 15, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 15: LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers scores in front of Nicolo Melli #20 and Nickeil Alexander-Walker #6 of the New Orleans Pelicans during the first half at Staples Center on January 15, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 15: Nickeil Alexander-Walker #6 of the New Orleans Pelicans dribbles in front of Dennis Schroder #17 of the Los Angeles Lakers during the first half at Staples Center on January 15, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 15: Zion Williamson #1 of the New Orleans Pelicans is fouled by LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers as he drives on Markieff Morris #88 during the first half at Staples Center on January 15, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 15: LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers celebrates a play with Montrezl Harrell #15 and Dennis Schroder #17 during the first half against the New Orleans Pelicans at Staples Center on January 15, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 15: LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers celebrates a basket with Anthony Davis #3 and Alex Caruso #4 during the first half against the New Orleans Pelicans at Staples Center on January 15, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

  • New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson (1) dunks during the first quarter of the team’s NBA basketball game against the Los Angeles Lakers Friday, Jan. 15, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • Los Angeles Lakers forward Anthony Davis (3) deflects a shot by New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson (1) during the first quarter of an NBA basketball game Friday, Jan. 15, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • New Orleans Pelicans guard Josh Hart (3) tries to take the ball from Los Angeles Lakers guard Dennis Schroeder, left, during the first quarter of an NBA basketball game Friday, Jan. 15, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • New Orleans Pelicans forward Brandon Ingram (14) reaches for a rebound between forward Zion Williamson (1) and Los Angeles Lakers center Marc Gasol, right, during the first quarter of an NBA basketball game Friday, Jan. 15, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson, right, defends against Los Angeles Lakers guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope during the first quarter of an NBA basketball game Friday, Jan. 15, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James, top, and New Orleans Pelicans center Steven Adams (12) air their differences during the second quarter of an NBA basketball game Friday, Jan. 15, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • New Orleans Pelicans forward Nicolo Melli, left, and center Steven Adams (12) defend against Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (23) during the second quarter of an NBA basketball game Friday, Jan. 15, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • Los Angeles Lakers guard Dennis Schroeder, right, defends against New Orleans Pelicans guard Nickeil Alexander-Walker during the second quarter of an NBA basketball game Friday, Jan. 15, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (23) shoots against New Orleans Pelicans guard Josh Hart (3) during the second quarter of an NBA basketball game Friday, Jan. 15, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • Los Angeles Lakers forward Anthony Davis (3) shoots against New Orleans Pelicans center Steven Adams (12) during the second quarter of an NBA basketball game Friday, Jan. 15, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 15: Montrezl Harrell #15 of the Los Angeles Lakers steals a pass at center court during a 112-95 Los Angeles Lakers win over the New Orleans Pelicans at Staples Center on January 15, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 15: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope #1 of the Los Angeles Lakers celebrates a three pointer from LeBron James #23 after a timeout during a 112-95 Los Angeles Lakers win over the New Orleans Pelicans at Staples Center on January 15, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 15: Montrezl Harrell #15 of the Los Angeles Lakers celebrates a three pointer from LeBron James #23 during a 112-95 Los Angeles Lakers win over the New Orleans Pelicans at Staples Center on January 15, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 15: LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers looks up at a replay during a 112-95 Los Angeles Lakers win over the New Orleans Pelicans at Staples Center on January 15, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 15: Zion Williamson #1 of the New Orleans Pelicans gets position in front of LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers during a 112-95 Los Angeles Lakers win at Staples Center on January 15, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 15: Montrezl Harrell #15 of the Los Angeles Lakers scores on a layup around Nicolo Melli #20 of the New Orleans Pelicans during a 112-95 Los Angeles Lakers win at Staples Center on January 15, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 15: LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers blocks the shot of Kira Lewis Jr. #13 of the New Orleans Pelicans during a 112-95 Los Angeles Lakers win at Staples Center on January 15, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 15: LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers dribbles in front of Brandon Ingram #14 of the New Orleans Pelicans during a 112-95 Los Angeles Lakers win at Staples Center on January 15, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 15: Zion Williamson #1 of the New Orleans Pelicans attempts a shot in front of Anthony Davis #3 of the Los Angeles Lakers during a 112-95 Los Angeles Lakers win at Staples Center on January 15, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 15: LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers drives to the basket in front of Josh Hart #3 of the New Orleans Pelicans during the first half at Staples Center on January 15, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 15: LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers keep the ball from Zion Williamson #1 of the New Orleans Pelicans during the first half at Staples Center on January 15, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 15: Brandon Ingram #14 of the New Orleans Pelicans passes in front of Anthony Davis #3 and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope #1 of the Los Angeles Lakers during the first half at Staples Center on January 15, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

  • Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (23) dunks against New Orleans Pelicans forward Nicolo Melli, center, during the third quarter of an NBA basketball game Friday, Jan. 15, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • Los Angeles Lakers center Montrezl Harrell dunks during the fourth quarter of the team’s NBA basketball game against the New Orleans Pelicans on Friday, Jan. 15, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • New Orleans Pelicans guard Kira Lewis Jr. goes to the basket as Los Angeles Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma (0) and center Montrezl Harrell (15) defend during the third quarter of an NBA basketball game Friday, Jan. 15, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • New Orleans Pelicans center Steven Adams (12) shoots over Los Angeles Lakers center Montrezl Harrell (15) during the fourth quarter of an NBA basketball game Friday, Jan. 15, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson dunks during the third quarter of the team’s NBA basketball game against the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday, Jan. 15, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • New Orleans Pelicans forward Zion Williamson (1) shoots as Los Angeles Lakers center Montrezl Harrell (15) defends during the fourth quarter of an NBA basketball game Friday, Jan. 15, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (23) defends against New Orleans Pelicans guard Kira Lewis Jr. (13) during the fourth quarter of an NBA basketball game Friday, Jan. 15, 2021, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 15: Head coach Frank Vogel of the Los Angeles Lakers reacts as LeBron James #23 leaves the game during a 112-95 Lakers win over the New Orleans Pelicans at Staples Center on January 15, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 15: Kyle Kuzma #0 of the Los Angeles Lakers gives an interview after a 112-95 Lakers win over the New Orleans Pelicans at Staples Center on January 15, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – JANUARY 15: LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers gives an interview after a 112-95 Lakers win over the New Orleans Pelicans at Staples Center on January 15, 2021 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

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LOS ANGELES — The Lakers have looked a lot like frontrunners lately, riding a winning streak that saw them ring up several blowouts on the road. How, then, would they respond to a youthful team out-shooting them and out-defending them to take a 15-point lead?

With plenty of patience.

As the visiting New Orleans Pelicans got out to an explosive start at Staples Center on Friday night, the Lakers steadily hung in, then crept back – first in the margins, then finally, overwhelmingly in the third quarter when the dam broke with a 15-0 run on the way to a 112-95 victory, the Lakers’ fifth straight.

LeBron James (21 points), of course, provided the crowning moment of the rally with a highlight-reel putback dunk. The power in his legs still belies his 36 years, but the steadiness with which he and the Lakers (11-3) handled their upstart competitors and their young stars, Zion Williamson and Brandon Ingram, spoke to how much experience separates these teams.

“There is no saving something for later in the season,” James laughed afterward. “My body’s ready to play whatever I need to play over the course of the game. I go hard when I’m out there and I start my treatment after the game. So, I wish I could bank time.”

The league-leading Lakers can certainly bank wins.

The Pelicans were rocked in the second half on every level, scoring just 37 points after halftime while finding their sturdy first-half defense torn apart: The Lakers’ passing prowess netted them 31 assists on 39 field goals on the night, led by James’ 11. Six Lakers scored in double figures, including Anthony Davis (17 points) and Montrezl Harrell (16 points).

From the 6:40 mark of the third quarter until there were 55 seconds remaining, New Orleans couldn’t score at all. The Lakers came out of a timeout with fadeaway shots from James and center Marc Gasol, and from then it was off to the races.

It looked different than the dominant three-game road trip when the Lakers hung big early leads on the Houston Rockets and Oklahoma City Thunder. Davis said the team might have been dragging from getting back home, where they are just 4-3.

“It can kinda wear on you a little bit and get you off on a slow start,” he said. “We overcame it tonight.”

It was a dramatically different tone from the start of the night, when the Lakers were a Davis free throw shy of their lowest-scoring first quarter of the season. They missed seven of their first 24 shots, getting just 20 points.

On the other side of the ball, they held the wrecking ball-body of Williamson (21 points) in check with double-teams in the paint. They had fewer answers for Ingram, the former Laker, who diced them up from all over the floor with jumpers and drives. He scored 17 of his 20 points in the first half.

The Lakers began to turn things around in the second quarter at the free-throw line, warming up what had been cold hands. Davis found his stroke after missing eight of his first 10 attempts from the field, and between the stripe and a few jumpers, the former Pelican scored nine of the last 14 points of the first half.

Dennis Schröder hit a banked-in floater to cut the margin to a single point at halftime, despite the fact that New Orleans shot 61 percent in the first half to the Lakers’ 40 percent. But Coach Frank Vogel said it was Schröder’s steals in the second quarter that truly gave the team the spark.

“The fight that he showed picking up full court, getting those two turnovers, really creating some havoc for their offense, really positioned us to do what we did in the second half,” Vogel said. “It’s a one-point game at halftime; it could’ve been a 10-, 15-point differential.”

The shooting gap was almost completely made up in the Lakers’ advantages in the turnover margin (plus-11 at the half) and at the free-throw line (20 Laker attempts to three for the Pelicans). The Lakers wound up with 12 fewer turnovers and 15 more made free throws in the game.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (16 points) capped a strong week returning from injury with his best shot-making performance yet. Among his four 3-pointers on the evening, the third quarter saw him nail one while falling to the court, sealing his claim as the most reliable deep threat on the team. He moved up to ninth all-time in franchise history with 423 3-pointers as a Laker.

Still, on a team shooting the NBA’s third-best percentage from 3-point range (39.6 percent), there is competition. Kyle Kuzma hit three, Alex Caruso hit three, and James hit two. James might still have a case as the best overall shooter on the team, given he’s the only one regularly allowed to pull up from the logo.

“LeBron’s always gonna be up there because he shoots a ton of them, especially when he gets hot, and starts shooting halfcourt and things like that,” Davis said. “I don’t think Coach will maybe allow Kenny to do that.”

For now, the most compelling competition remains between the Lakers themselves –not against the rest of the league.

👑@KingJames powers the @Lakers to an NBA-best 11-3. #LakeShow

21 PTS | 8 REB | 11 AST pic.twitter.com/0RQX0hSNaN

— NBA (@NBA) January 16, 2021

LeBron 🔨 in #PhantomCam.

LAL/GSW ⏩ Mon. (1/18), 10pm/et, TNT pic.twitter.com/0Y8KzVpnKT

— NBA (@NBA) January 16, 2021

“My body is ready to play.”@KingJames on how he feels at age 36, playing limited minutes and the #Lakers performance down the stretch. pic.twitter.com/bVv5kECgKm

— Spectrum SportsNet (@SpectrumSN) January 16, 2021

🚫 AD says NO on ESPN! 🚫pic.twitter.com/jnULvJ9r3L

— NBA (@NBA) January 16, 2021

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Lakers squeak by Spurs as Anthony Davis scores 34

For many years, a trip to the playoffs meant at least a few nights in San Antonio for the Lakers.

But in the regular season? Two games on the road against the same opponent is something new that Frank Vogel was wary of from the start. After beating an undermanned San Antonio on Wednesday, he worried even before the game whether the Lakers would bring the same effort.

A little of that complacency leaked through in a 109-103 win on Friday night, in which the Lakers (4-2) got the same result as two nights before in a much uglier fashion. If not for Anthony Davis, who scored a season-best 34 points, and a few gutty plays in the closing minutes, the Lakers might have started 2021 on a discordant note.

But they did just enough: They outscored the Spurs 9-0 in the final 2:26 of the game, as LeBron James (26 points, 11 rebounds, 10 assists) bowled Derrick White over then dodged a flying Keldon Johnson to kiss a clinching basket off the glass.

“I think we just persisted through our struggles and that’s going to happen from time to time,” Vogel said. “You’re going to have some wins that are a little uglier than others.”

After a number of games in which they blew opponents away with on-target shooting, the Lakers slumped from the floor. They were worse inside the arc (39.7 percent) than outside of it (42.4 percent). James and Dennis Schröder in particular struggled for efficiency, scoring a combined 41 points on 37 shots.

But Davis had his best offensive game, and his range was the weapon that the Spurs could not counter. The 27-year-old was 4 for 6 from deep, adding to his 11 rebounds and five assists for an effort that helped lift his team.

His 3-pointer to tie the game with 2:26 left started the closing rally, in which he also grabbed a key defensive rebound.

The 3-point shooting is an aspect that the Lakers hope will continue to open up their already well-spaced offense. Who can stop a 6-foot-10 forward with a reliable deep shot?

“Coach wants me to shoot at least five, average five, a game this year,” Davis said. “I had a lot of good looks. Sometimes I pass up for a better shot. But I just got to shoot it.”

The game was tied 15 times, with 21 lead changes. Even though the Spurs were without LaMarcus Aldridge for a second straight game, Johnson scored a team-best 26 points while DeMar DeRozan had 23.

The Lakers were frustrated by a lack of whistles: They had 10 fewer free throw attempts than the Spurs. After his final basket, James gestured to an official wanting a foul on Johnson — a continuation of a steady dialogue throughout the night. He did make the most of his appearances at the stripe, going 7 for 7.

It was a game when James acknowledged he felt the lack of fans drained the game of energy.

“It’s going to be a long season. It’s going to be a difficult season,” James said. “You’re going to have to have games where you’re going to have to give energy to one another. Manifest energy for yourself without the fans and things of that nature.”

The pandemic drove the NBA to create a more conservative travel schedule with consecutive road games in the same cities. Before Friday night, the Lakers hadn’t played two road regular season games against the same opponent since 1965.

Vogel said there are some restrictions that make normal routines difficult: Players and staff have to do rapid coronavirus testing every morning before meeting, and they can’t use hotel weight rooms. Many other aspects are normal, but trying to sweep an opponent twice on one trip can seem daunting, if only because of human foibles.

“There’s a mental challenge to that that I think of teams are going to see throughout the year,” Vogel said. “I think you see a lot of splits in these situations and we were susceptible to that tonight, but like I said, we were able to persevere and get the W.”

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Whicker: Lakers get into the spirit of this cut-and-dried Christmas

Next time the NBA fills up Christmas Day with basketball, make sure batteries are included on both sides.

The Lakers could have played in their stockings and won this one over Dallas. Their 138-115 victory followed Miami’s 13-point stroll past New Orleans, Milwaukee’s 39-point embarrassment of Golden State, and Brooklyn’s ominous 28-point waltz in Boston.

It’s not unusual to have Christmas games serve as background music instead of actual dramatics, and it wouldn’t be bad, either, if this were a year when the family could gather ‘round. Although the players aspire to get network exposure, they’re as protective of their special days as anybody else. When one team falls behind, it’s easier to punt its best effort to a more secular occasion.

But you can’t blame the NBA for playing as many games as it can whenever it can, seeing what might be awaiting as the winter deepens. On Friday, the Lakers just had fun matching up their new ornaments.

This was the Lakers’ highest-scoring performance since Dec. 8 of last year, when Anthony Davis put 50 points and they throttled Minnesota 142-125. They certainly weren’t offensively challenged in their championship season, but they can score far easier in their half-court offense with Montrezl Harrell and Dennis Schröder in the crew, especially if Kyle Kuzma keeps looking this good.

Harrell, Schröder and Kuzma shot 23 for 35 against the Mavericks, and Harrell’s five offensive rebounds helped the Lakers outscore Dallas 35-0 on second-chance opportunities, which hasn’t happened in the NBA since such records were kept.

Their strong push meant Davis could work fewer than 31 minutes and LeBron James fewer than 32, a rest they earned after a strong first quarter.

“Five or six guys are able to come in and get you 20,” Kuzma said. “We’ve got guys ready to come in and take a game over.”

It might be the closest thing to a shadow starting lineup since 1984, when Pat Riley often began games with Bob McAdoo, Jamaal Wilkes, Michael Cooper and Mitch Kupchak sitting beside him. Here, the Laker reserves scored 55 points and sank 10 of 16 3-point shots.

Nobody actually wants to see the Lakers experiment with this, but if James or Davis had to miss extended time, couldn’t they still finish high in the West? One would assume Jalen Horton-Tucker, among others, would eat up those available minutes, and we’ve barely seen the tip of Wesley Matthews’ game in this 1-1 start.

“I can see, with this team, that I can go into the lane and put pressure on the other team,” said Schröder, who left no doubt that he would be thrilled to sign a contract extension “as long as it’s fair for both sides.

“When I do that, nobody is really helping,” Schroder added. “Everybody else on the court draws a lot of attention.”

The Mavericks (0-2) got 27 points and seven rebounds from Luka Doncic, but they needed more, or at least needed him to do it differently. Coach Frank Vogel had Schröder guard Doncic much of the time and then called in bigger helpmates when the shot clock began dwindling.

Doncic was only 7 for 16 in the first three quarters, and Vogel was pleased the Lakers kept him from digging in at the 3-point line. He went 2 for 4 from deep, and had only four rebounds.

“You try not to overhelp and open up the 3-point game for all their guys,” Vogel said. Add the Mavericks’ 13-for-32 shooting on longballs, and those are winning numbers against the preseason favorite for league Most Valuable Player.

“I guarded Luka quite a bit when I was in Oklahoma City,” Schröder said. “We did a great job of putting him under pressure in the beginning, although we slipped a little bit later.

“I gotta play defense because it gets me into my offense. I think it’s 60, 70 percent of my game. If I play 94 feet with energy, my teammates can see that we’re all into it. That’s what I’ve done my whole career.”

Harrell is also doing the same things that earned him the league’s top Sixth Man award last year, an honor for which Schröder contended as well.

“The only thing to say about him (Harrell) is that he catches everything and he scores everything,” Vogel said, smiling. “We’re trying to give our depth enough reps, and trying to manage LeBron, but it started tonight with LeBron and AD playing at a high level.”

As they know each other better, the Lakers probably will give you lots of nights like this, lots of games that get wrapped up earlier than your gifts probably were.

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Whicker: Schröder, Harrell make Lakers’ fitful opener more hopeful

For a long time, it appeared the Clippers and Lakers should return to The Bubble, preferably with a tight wrap.

Seventy-one days between confetti and a new tipoff clearly weren’t enough for the Lakers to re-ignite and lift off, particularly with so many new actors. The Clippers, who seemed to think the lack of team chemistry explained their face-plant in the playoffs against Denver, tried to incorporate three new rotation players. They were imperfect strangers, too.

So a flat opening night, with no fans inside Staples Center, came out in the Clippers’ favor, 116-109. But for the holdover Lakers, the game will fade long before the pregame ring ceremony will. The families of the players and coaches appeared on the video board, to everyone’s surprise, to remotely present the rings, and obviously, the Lakers themselves were still on that championship high from Oct. 11.

And maybe their hands were a little disfigured from the pressure of trying on a ring the size of a bejeweled bell pepper.

It’s historically difficult to transform oneself into competitive mode after something like that. Perhaps it would be better, whenever the virus moves on, to have the ring ceremony the night before the opener, in front of the season-ticket holders, in conjunction with the premiere of the previous season’s highlight film and maybe with a low-impact skills competition thrown in.

Either way, the Lakers are hoping they’re good enough to win this glorified handicap match, to overcome a halting start to the regular season. Coach Frank Vogel indicated what his vision is. He played LeBron James 12:32 in the second half and he played Anthony Davis 13:56. Neither All-Star was on the floor when the Clippers staged the finishing touch.

Instead, Dennis Schröder played 13:36 in that half and Montrezl Harrell 17:53. Schroder played for Oklahoma City last year, which was eliminated on Sept. 2. Harrell’s Clippers were relieved of their duties on Sept. 15.

They were the best Lakers, all told. Schröder didn’t shoot well but had 14 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists, and looked justified in campaigning to start at point guard. He also has developed the same pick-and-roll rhythm with Harrell that Lou Williams once had. Harrell was beastly, going 6 for 7, scoring 17 and grabbing 10 boards.

“It’s a balancing act,” Vogel said. “Some of the younger guys and the guys who weren’t with us all the way last year can carry a bigger load while the other guys get their legs under them. Dennis definitely can carry that load. He’s a dynamic player, he got into the lane and showed his ability to score. He’s a winning player and Trez was a junkyard dog out there.”

Kyle Kuzma, who received a new contract extension while he faces a year-long battle for his accustomed minutes, scored 15 off the bench. Marc Gasol, Markieff Morris and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope had little impact. This will change game to game, but Schröder and Harrell will be more prominent Lakers than any of the players they lost during their 71-day “summer.”

“We’ve been together 10 days now,” Schröder said. “We’re still trying to find ourselves. We’re trying to figure out what everybody likes.”

“We’re fairly new,” Harrell said. “We’re all learning new defensive coverages. We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us, but we know we have the right guys to do it.”

Those who are a little skittish about the Lakers’ defense at the rim, without Dwight Howard and Javale McGee, were not calmed by the Clippers’ paint parade in the first half. Once the Lakers stopped that, they were subjected to a 26-point second half by Paul George. If he does that again on Christmas night in Denver, we can begin calling him Poinsettia P.

George played 35:46 and Kawhi Leonard played 34:01, and they took 44 of the Clippers’ 93 shots. The Clippers looked bigger with Nicolas Batum and Serge Ibaka in the lineup, and Ivica Zubac gives their second unit an imposing look.

They also had a string of 12 consecutive empty possessions in that brutal second quarter, and the Lakers cut a 20-point deficit to 11. The lead evaporated completely in the third quarter, but George stood guard.

The Dallas Mavericks come to play the Lakers on Christmas Day, and they are likely to be the more thrilled and rested team. But the Lakers know basketball isn’t like high finance or academia. Doing your best means less vacation in this game. The odds are that they’ll catch up to the rest of the league as soon as sleep catches up with them.


The Lakers’ Montrezl Harrell lays the ball in the basket during their season opener against the Clippers on Tuesday night at Staples Center. Harrell was beastly in the Lakers’ 116-109 loss, going 6 for 7 from the field, scoring 17 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

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Anthony Davis shows shooting touch as Lakers wrap undefeated preseason

  • Lakers forward LeBron James looks to pass as Suns forward Jae Crowder (99) defends during the first half of Friday’s preseason game in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

  • Lakers forward Anthony Davis attempts a shot over the Suns’ Johnathan Motley during the first half of Friday’s preseason game in Phoenix. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

  • PHOENIX, ARIZONA – DECEMBER 18: Kentavious Caldwell-Pope #1 of the Los Angeles Lakers drives the ball against Jevon Carter #4 of the Phoenix Suns during the first half of the NBA preseason game at Talking Stick Resort Arena on December 18, 2020 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

  • PHOENIX, ARIZONA – DECEMBER 18: LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers brings the ball up court past Anthony Davis #3 during the first half of the NBA preseason game against the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena on December 18, 2020 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

  • PHOENIX, ARIZONA – DECEMBER 18: Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns lays up a shot against the Los Angeles Lakers during the first half of the NBA preseason game at Talking Stick Resort Arena on December 18, 2020 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

  • PHOENIX, ARIZONA – DECEMBER 18: LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers attempts a shot over Jae Crowder #99 of the Phoenix Suns during the first half of the NBA preseason game at Talking Stick Resort Arena on December 18, 2020 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

  • PHOENIX, ARIZONA – DECEMBER 18: LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers makes a leaping pass defended by Deandre Ayton #22 of the Phoenix Suns during the first half of the NBA preseason game at Talking Stick Resort Arena on December 18, 2020 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

  • PHOENIX, ARIZONA – DECEMBER 18: Head coach Frank Vogel of the Los Angeles Lakers reacts during the first half of the NBA preseason game against the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena on December 18, 2020 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

  • PHOENIX, ARIZONA – DECEMBER 18: Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns handles the ball during the first half of the NBA preseason game against the Los Angeles Lakers at Talking Stick Resort Arena on December 18, 2020 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

  • PHOENIX, ARIZONA – DECEMBER 18: LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers drives the ball as Anthony Davis #3 sets a pick on Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns during the first half of the NBA preseason game at Talking Stick Resort Arena on December 18, 2020 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

  • PHOENIX, ARIZONA – DECEMBER 18: Cameron Johnson #23 of the Phoenix Suns handles the ball defended by LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers during the first half of the NBA preseason game at Talking Stick Resort Arena on December 18, 2020 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

  • PHOENIX, ARIZONA – DECEMBER 18: Markieff Morris #88 of the Los Angeles Lakers lays up a shot against the Phoenix Suns during the first half of the NBA preseason game at Talking Stick Resort Arena on December 18, 2020 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

  • PHOENIX, ARIZONA – DECEMBER 18: Talen Horton-Tucker #5 of the Los Angeles Lakers handles the ball during the first half of the NBA preseason game against the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena on December 18, 2020 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

  • PHOENIX, ARIZONA – DECEMBER 18: Cameron Payne #15 of the Phoenix Suns attempts a shot over Kentavious Caldwell-Pope #1 of the Los Angeles Lakers during the first half of the NBA preseason game at Talking Stick Resort Arena on December 18, 2020 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

  • PHOENIX, ARIZONA – DECEMBER 18: LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers watches from the bench during the first half of the NBA preseason game against the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena on December 18, 2020 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

  • PHOENIX, ARIZONA – DECEMBER 18: Wesley Matthews #9 of the Los Angeles Lakers attempts a shot past Mikal Bridges #25 of the Phoenix Suns during the first half of the NBA preseason game at Talking Stick Resort Arena on December 18, 2020 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

  • PHOENIX, ARIZONA – DECEMBER 18: Cameron Johnson #23 of the Phoenix Suns attempts a shot defended by Kyle Kuzma #0 of the Los Angeles Lakers during the second half of the NBA preseason game at Talking Stick Resort Arena on December 18, 2020 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

  • Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James, right, drives past Phoenix Suns forward Jae Crowder, left, during the first half of a preseason basketball game, Friday, Dec. 18, 2020, in Phoenix, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)

  • PHOENIX, ARIZONA – DECEMBER 18: Mikal Bridges #25 of the Phoenix Suns puts a up a three-point shot over LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers during the first half of the NBA preseason game at Talking Stick Resort Arena on December 18, 2020 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

  • PHOENIX, ARIZONA – DECEMBER 18: LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers attempts a shot under pressure from Deandre Ayton #22 and Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns during the first half of the NBA preseason game at Talking Stick Resort Arena on December 18, 2020 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

  • Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (23) drives past Phoenix Suns center Damian Jones (30) during the first half of a preseason basketball game, Friday, Dec. 18, 2020, in Phoenix, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)

  • Los Angeles Lakers guard Talen Horton-Tucker (5) drives on Phoenix Suns guard Jevon Carter (4) during the first half of a preseason basketball game, Friday, Dec. 18, 2020, in Phoenix, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)

  • Los Angeles Lakers guard Alex Caruso (4) dishes off around Phoenix Suns center Damian Jones (30) during the first half of a preseason basketball game, Friday, Dec. 18, 2020, in Phoenix, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)

  • Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker (1) passes over Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (23) during the second half of a preseason NBA basketball game, Friday, Dec. 18, 2020, in Phoenix, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)

  • Los Angeles Lakers forward Markieff Morris (88) shoots against the Phoenix Suns during the first half of a preseason basketball game, Friday, Dec. 18, 2020, in Phoenix, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)

  • Los Angeles Lakers guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, center, shoots between Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker, right, and guard Cameron Payne (15) during the first half of a preseason basketball game, Friday, Dec. 18, 2020, in Phoenix, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)

  • PHOENIX, ARIZONA – DECEMBER 18: Anthony Davis #3 of the Los Angeles Lakers high fives Markieff Morris #88 during the second half of the NBA preseason game at Talking Stick Resort Arena on December 18, 2020 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

  • Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (23) calls a play against the Phoenix Suns during the first half of a preseason NBA basketball game, Friday, Dec. 18, 2020, in Phoenix, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)

  • PHOENIX, ARIZONA – DECEMBER 18: Cameron Johnson #23 of the Phoenix Suns attempts a shot defended by Kyle Kuzma #0 of the Los Angeles Lakers during the second half of the NBA preseason game at Talking Stick Resort Arena on December 18, 2020 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

  • PHOENIX, ARIZONA – DECEMBER 18: Montrezl Harrell #15 of the Los Angeles Lakers looks to pass defended by Jevon Carter #4 of the Phoenix Suns during the second half of the NBA preseason game at Talking Stick Resort Arena on December 18, 2020 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

  • Los Angeles Lakers forward Marc Gasol fouls Phoenix Suns center Deandre Ayton (22) during the second half of a preseason NBA basketball game, Friday, Dec. 18, 2020, in Phoenix, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)

  • PHOENIX, ARIZONA – DECEMBER 18: Talen Horton-Tucker #5 of the Los Angeles Lakers attempts a shot against the Phoenix Suns during the second half of the NBA preseason game at Talking Stick Resort Arena on December 18, 2020 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

  • Phoenix Suns guard Devin Booker drives against Los Angeles Lakers guard Talen Horton-Tucker, right, during the second half of a preseason NBA basketball game, Friday, Dec. 18, 2020, in Phoenix, Ariz. (AP Photo/Matt York)

  • PHOENIX, ARIZONA – DECEMBER 18: Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns slam dunks the ball past Wesley Matthews #9 of the Los Angeles Lakers during the second half of the NBA preseason game at Talking Stick Resort Arena on December 18, 2020 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

  • PHOENIX, ARIZONA – DECEMBER 18: Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns slam dunks the ball past Wesley Matthews #9 of the Los Angeles Lakers during the second half of the NBA preseason game at Talking Stick Resort Arena on December 18, 2020 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

  • PHOENIX, ARIZONA – DECEMBER 18: Anthony Davis #3 of the Los Angeles Lakers handles the ball defended by Deandre Ayton #22 of the Phoenix Suns during the second half of the NBA preseason game at Talking Stick Resort Arena on December 18, 2020 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

  • PHOENIX, ARIZONA – DECEMBER 18: Deandre Ayton #22 of the Phoenix Suns attempts a shot over Markieff Morris #88 and Kyle Kuzma #0 of the Los Angeles Lakers during the second half of the NBA preseason game at Talking Stick Resort Arena on December 18, 2020 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

  • PHOENIX, ARIZONA – DECEMBER 18: Devin Booker #1 of the Phoenix Suns and LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers battle for the ball during the second half of the NBA preseason game at Talking Stick Resort Arena on December 18, 2020 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

  • Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James warms up prior to an NBA preseason basketball game against the Phoenix Suns, Friday, Dec. 18, 2020, in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Matt York)

  • PHOENIX, ARIZONA – DECEMBER 18: Anthony Davis #3 and LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers stand attended for the national anthem before the NBA preseason game against the Phoenix Suns at Talking Stick Resort Arena on December 18, 2020 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

  • Lakers forward LeBron James reacts during the second half of Friday’s preseason game against the Suns in Phoenix. (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)

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The most any fan can ask for from the preseason is a spark of imagination for what might be to come.

Anthony Davis, in that sense, gave the people what they wanted, hitting a step-back 3-pointer as time expired in the third quarter – his sixth of the night.

The Lakers finished the preseason on Friday night with a 114-113 victory over the host Phoenix Suns, flexing some of the muscle that’s made them an early favorite to repeat as NBA champions. Davis finished with a team-high 35 points in just under 30 minutes. He laughed as he high-fived teammates while waltzing back to the bench for good after the shot: He had proved his point.

“Obviously he played at a pretty damn high level last year,” Coach Frank Vogel said. “But he’s a guy that he’s never satisfied. He wants to continue to get better.”

So do the Lakers: At full strength against the Suns, they started slowly in both games but fired their engines when they wished. The starting lineup (albeit without Dennis Schröder, who sat with a mild ankle sprain) looked most effective in the pivotal third quarter when they outscored Phoenix, 35-23.

It was the rare night when Davis’ 3-point percentage (6 for 7) was better than his free-throw percentage (7 for 10), pacing the Lakers’ 16-for-30 effort from behind the arc. LeBron James scored 20 points on 6-for-11 shooting, even though he looked rusty on his handle, coughing up eight turnovers.

No one worries about preseason wins and losses, but a 4-0 record surely can’t hurt. The team has four days before the regular season begins on Tuesday night at home against the Clippers.

Still, the Lakers fretted after the game about their slow start, in which they trailed by 21 points in a sluggish first quarter. It’s clear their legs are not yet game-ready, they said, and there’s a measure of concern entering the regular season with subpar conditioning after a condensed offseason.

James might be the highest concern of all, given that he’s turning 36 at the end of the month. But he expressed his confidence in his ability to monitor his own health.

“We’re a marathon team, we understand that, we’re not in a sprint,” he said. “I don’t think that it’s gonna be a fine line. I listen to my body, I listen to Mike Mancias, my trainer, I listen to the coaching staff, obviously listen to Frank, and I listen to my teammates as well. And go from there.”

The Lakers won despite struggling to stay in front of Suns scoring threat Devon Booker (27 points) and emptying the bench in the closing minutes of the tight game. Quinn Cook had the game-winning basket, while Phoenix’s Langston Galloway missed a final heave from the corner at the buzzer.

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope added 15 points while Talen Horton-Tucker had 12.

The Lakers were proud of their undefeated mark despite games in which they were severely limited in their roster, or didn’t start the way they wished. It’s an attitude they plan on carrying into the regular season.

“We got our leaders, Bron and A.D.,” Caldwell-Pope said. “Their mindset is like, ‘Man, we don’t care if it’s the preseason. We wanna get out there and get after it.’ And four days from now, the regular season starts, and we’re gonna be ready.”

McKINNIE MAKES LAKERS DEBUT IN PHOENIX

Among the Lakers’ newcomers, only one has yet to practice with the team.

That’s Alfonzo McKinnie, the 28-year-old small forward the Lakers acquired by trading JaVale McGee to Cleveland, who missed the first week of training camp with an excused absence under the league’s health and safety protocols. He tuned into the Lakers’ film sessions and practices via video conference to remain involved.

The Lakers acknowledged on Friday, however, that McKinnie had joined the team in Phoenix, and in the closing minutes, he checked in against the Suns and finished with just a rebound and a foul.

“He’s been a part of everything, remotely for a lot of those days, but in the last few days he’s really ramped up his individual work,” Vogel said. “The coaches have spent a lot of time with him. We haven’t had a chance to really get him scripting our plays and whatnot, but he’s been sitting with the assistant coaches watching film on those types of things.”

McKinnie played 40 games with the Cavaliers last season, averaging 4.6 points and 2.8 rebounds.

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LeBron James, Anthony Davis to play for Lakers against Suns on Wednesday

While the Lakers might be the first to tout that they’ve had “the shortest offseason in history,” as Coach Frank Vogel put it on Tuesday, LeBron James seems to be happier than at the start of last season, when he had an especially long time to stew.

Just 66 days since James and Anthony Davis were on the court, showering in confetti with championship trophies in their arms, they’ll be making their 2020-21 debut on Wednesday night in Phoenix. The Lakers plan to play their two stars, both of whom signed long-term contracts this month, just in the first half of the team’s first preseason road game of the year.

While the short offseason hasn’t given James much time to celebrate or get up to game shape, he seems to like what he’s seen so far from a revamped squad that has started the preseason 2-0 despite minutes restrictions and absences up and down the roster. He sounds ready to get back with the flow.

“They’ve been sharing the ball, moving the ball, playing at a really good pace and trying to defend and rebound,” he said. “We just want to pick up back at where we left off in the bubble, but also enhance that with the new guys.”

With just two exhibitions left before the regular-season opener on Dec. 22, the Lakers have precious few opportunities to see how the team plays together. But Vogel said even though the timeline might be shorter than the Lakers want, it’s not rushed: The plan for James and Davis has been made collaboratively, with the advice of medical staffers, coaches and the players themselves feeding into it.

So far, Vogel said he has liked the movement on offense, which resulted in 131 points against the Clippers on Sunday despite the team’s top three scorers sitting out. On defense, he’d like to see strides, which could come by adding Davis, the runner-up for the NBA’s Defensive Player of the Year award. But Wednesday’s game will be the smallest of toe dips into live competition.

“I just want to see them go out and try to get a rhythm,” he said. “Get comfortable with some of their new teammates and try to get their legs under them a little bit.”

James, who turns 36 at the end of the month, is coming off a season in which he scored 25 points per game and led the NBA in assists (10.2 apg). Though the offseason was short, the Lakers remade the roster in a way that might allow the four-time league MVP to take on less of the load. James said he’s capable of playing up to that level again, but early sessions with center Marc Gasol and guard Dennis Schröder might ease the burden for him.

“If our team doesn’t need that this year, then that’s absolutely fine as well,” he said. “As you’ve seen through the first two preseason games, being able to facilitate through Marc at that high-post area, it’s going to give us another playmaker. Dennis is going to give us another playmaker. So, it doesn’t matter for me. Whatever the team needs for me to do this year.”

James has also reveled in the play of Talen Horton-Tucker, the second-year wing with whom he shares an agent, saying, “the kid can flat-out play.”

The Lakers are expected to have a full deck Wednesday after sitting out at least six players in each of the first two preseason games. The only player who is doubtful is Alex Caruso, who continues to experience hip soreness after taking a tumble in the first quarter on Friday.

The Lakers also received good news regarding Kostas Antetokounmpo and Devontae Cacok. The team’s two-way contract players were cleared to rejoin the roster under the NBA’s health and safety protocols after missing Sunday’s game. Vogel said he could not detail what had caused the two forwards to miss the game, but said teams across the league are bracing for more of those instances.

“We’re at the mercy of the virus and the testing protocols,” he said. “I can’t really get into any more detail about what happened with this weekend and why they’re back so quickly, but definitely following the protocols as closely as we can in some circumstances can potentially reduce it.”

JAMES ANNOUNCES NEW COMMUNITY INITIATIVE IN HOMETOWN

Since opening the I Promise School in his hometown of Akron, Ohio, in 2018, James through his foundation has expanded the grade levels and facilities, offered more family support services and branched into providing temporary housing through the I Promise Village. The next step for the LeBron James Family Foundation is a community center, called House Three Thirty (Akron’s area code) which will offer financial literacy, job training as well as commercial properties.

The space will be converted from the Tangier, a multi-use venue that James remembers well as a banquet hall he visited as a part of several sports teams as he was growing up.

“I know how important that landmark is to our city, to the city of Akron. And for us to be able to take over that venue and create a space for our families and our kids and people that would want to come to see what we’re doing, I think it’s amazing.”

The space is scheduled to open in 2022.

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Montrezl Harrell gets look against Clippers as Lakers return to Staples Center

  • The Lakers’ Alex Caruso drives to the basket as the Clippers’ Paul George defends during Friday night’s preseason opener at Staples Center. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • The Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard and the Lakers’ Kostas Antetokounmpo go after a rebound during Fridasy night’s preseason opener at Staples Center. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • The Lakers’ Wesley Matthews #9 shoots as the Clippers Paul George #2 defends during their NBA preseason game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, Friday, December 11, 2020. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • The Lakers’ LeBron James #23 during their NBA preseason game against the Clippers at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, Friday, December 11, 2020. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • Thew Lakers’ Montrezl Harrell #15 and the Clippers’ Serge Ibaka #9 tip the ball off to start their NBA preseason game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, Friday, December 11, 2020. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • Los Angeles Clippers center Serge Ibaka, left, and Los Angeles Lakers forward Montrezl Harrell reach for the opening tip of an NBA preseason basketball game in Los Angeles, Friday, Dec. 11, 2020. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

  • The Lakers’ Kyle Kuzma #0 shoots as the Clippers Nicolas Batum #33 defends during their NBA preseason game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, Friday, December 11, 2020. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • The Lakers’ LeBron James #23 during their NBA preseason game against the Clippers at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, Friday, December 11, 2020. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • The Lakers’ LeBron James #23 rubs his face after taking off a facial covering during their NBA preseason game against the Clippers at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, Friday, December 11, 2020. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • The Lakers’ Talen Horton-Tucker #5 drives to the hoop as the Clippers Reggie Jackson #1 defends during their NBA preseason game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, Friday, December 11, 2020. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • Los Angeles Clippers center Ivica Zubac, front, goes up for a basket past Los Angeles Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma during the second half of an NBA preseason basketball game in Los Angeles, Friday, Dec. 11, 2020. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

  • The Lakers’ Quinn Cook #2 lays the ball up as the Clippers Patrick Patterson #54 defends during their NBA preseason game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, Friday, December 11, 2020. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • The Clippers’ Kawhi Leonard #2 lays the ball up during their NBA preseason game against the Lakers at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, Friday, December 11, 2020. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • The Lakers’ Talen Horton-Tucker #5 passes the ball around the Clippers Reggie Jackson #1 during their NBA preseason game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, Friday, December 11, 2020. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • Los Angeles Lakers forward Montrezl Harrell, left, drives toward the basket as Los Angeles Clippers forward Mfiondu Kabengele defends during the second half of an NBA preseason basketball game in Los Angeles, Friday, Dec. 11, 2020. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

  • The Lakers’ Alex Caruso #4 looks to pass as the Clippers Kawhi Leonard #2 defends during their NBA preseason game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, Friday, December 11, 2020. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • The Lakers’ Devontae Cacok #12 dunks the ball during their NBA preseason game against the Clippers at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, Friday, December 11, 2020. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • New Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue talks to his Patrick Beverley, center, and some of players during Friday night’s preseason opener against the Lakers at Staples Center. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • The Lakers’ Dennis Schroder #17 shoots as the Clippers’ Patrick Beverley #21 defends during their NBA preseason game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, Friday, December 11, 2020. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • The Lakers’ Montrezl Harrell dunks during Friday’s NBA preseason game against the Clippers at Staples Center. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • The Lakers’ Montrezl Harrell #15 dunks the ball during their NBA preseason game against the Clippers at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, Friday, December 11, 2020. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 11: Anthony Davis #3 of the Los Angeles Lakers celebrates the end of the half, with former LA Clippers now Los Angeles Lakers, Montrezl Harrell #15 during a preseason game against the LA Clippers at Staples Center on December 11, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

  • The Clippers’ Paul George #13 lays the ball up during their NBA preseason game against the Lakers at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, Friday, December 11, 2020. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • The Lakers’ Devontae Cacok #12 dunks the ball during their NBA preseason game against the Clippers at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, Friday, December 11, 2020. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • The Clippers head coach Tyronn Lue during their NBA preseason game against the Lakers at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, Friday, December 11, 2020. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • The Lakers’ Talen Horton-Tucker #5 drives to the hoop as the Clippers Reggie Jackson #1 defends during their NBA preseason game at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, Friday, December 11, 2020. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

  • Los Angeles Clippers coach Tyrone Lue watches Los Angeles Clippers guard Reggie Jackson shoot a free throw during the first half of the team’s NBA preseason basketball game against the Los Angeles Lakers in Los Angeles, Friday, Dec. 11, 2020. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

  • Los Angeles Clippers guard Patrick Beverley during the first half of an NBA preseason basketball game against the Los Angeles Lakers in Los Angeles, Friday, Dec. 11, 2020. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

  • Los Angeles Lakers forward Montrezl Harrell dunks during the first half of the team’s NBA preseason basketball game against the Los Angeles Clippers in Los Angeles, Friday, Dec. 11, 2020. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

  • Los Angeles Clippers guard Paul George during the first half of an NBA preseason basketball game against the Los Angeles Lakers in Los Angeles, Friday, Dec. 11, 2020. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

  • Los Angeles Clippers head coach Tyrone Lue during the first half of an NBA preseason basketball game in Los Angeles, Friday, Dec. 11, 2020. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

  • Los Angeles Clippers center Serge Ibaka, right, defends on a shot by Los Angeles Lakers guard Talen Horton-Tucker during the first half of an NBA preseason basketball game in Los Angeles, Friday, Dec. 11, 2020. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

  • Los Angeles Clippers guard Paul George, left, celebrates his basket with forward Kawhi Leonard during the first half of the team’s NBA preseason basketball game against the Los Angeles Lakers in Los Angeles, Friday, Dec. 11, 2020. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

  • Los Angeles Clippers guard Lou Williams, right, tries to steal the ball from Los Angeles Lakers guard Wesley Matthews during the first half of an NBA preseason basketball game in Los Angeles, Friday, Dec. 11, 2020. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 11: Head coach Tyronn Lue of the LA Clippers speaks with Kawhi Leonard #2 and Patrick Beverley during a preseason game against the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center on December 11, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

  • Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James, left, and forward Anthony Davis wear masks watch their teammates play during the first half of an NBA preseason basketball game against the Los Angeles Clippers in Los Angeles, Friday, Dec. 11, 2020. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 11: Anthony Davis #3 and LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers watch a preseason game against the LA Clippers from the sidelines at Staples Center on December 11, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

  • Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard, right, wins a rebound against Los Angeles Lakers forward Kostas Antetokounmpo during the first half of an NBA preseason basketball game in Los Angeles, Friday, Dec. 11, 2020. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

  • Los Angeles Lakers coach Frank Vogel talks to players during the first half of the team’s NBA preseason basketball game against the Los Angeles Clippers in Los Angeles, Friday, Dec. 11, 2020. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

  • Los Angeles Clippers guard Lou Williams during the first half of an NBA preseason basketball game against the Los Angeles Lakers in Los Angeles, Friday, Dec. 11, 2020. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 11: Head coach Frank Vogel of the Los Angeles Lakers reacts from the sidelines during a preseason game against the LA Clippers at Staples Center on December 11, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

  • Los Angeles Lakers guard Talen Horton-Tucker, bottom, shoots under pressure form Los Angeles Clippers forward Mfiondu Kabengele during the second half of an NBA preseason basketball game in Los Angeles, Friday, Dec. 11, 2020. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 11: Kawhi Leonard #2 of the LA Clippers attempts a layup between the Los Angeles Lakers defense during a preseason game at Staples Center on December 11, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

  • Los Angeles Clippers forward Kawhi Leonard during the first half of an NBA preseason basketball game against the Los Angeles Lakers in Los Angeles, Friday, Dec. 11, 2020. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

  • Los Angeles Lakers guard Dennis Schroeder, left, goes up for a shot as Los Angeles Clippers forward Patrick Patterson, center, defends during the second half of an NBA preseason basketball game in Los Angeles, Friday, Dec. 11, 2020. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

  • Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James, left, greets guard Talen Horton-Tucker, who was heading to the bench during the second half of the team’s NBA preseason basketball game against the Los Angeles Clippers in Los Angeles, Friday, Dec. 11, 2020. (AP Photo/Kyusung Gong)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 11: Shoes of LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers worn during a preseason game against the LA Clippers at Staples Center on December 11, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 11: The court is cleaned before a preseason game between the LA Clippers and the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center on December 11, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 11: Paul George #13 of the LA Clippers warms up before a preseason game against the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center on December 11, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 11: Anthony Davis #3 of the Los Angeles Lakers laughs as he warms up before a preseason game against the LA Clippers at Staples Center on December 11, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 11: Paul George #13 and Kawhi Leonard #2 of the LA Clippers warm up before a preseason game against the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center on December 11, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 11: Anthony Davis #3 of the Los Angeles Lakers reacts as he warms up before a preseason game against the LA Clippers at Staples Center on December 11, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 11: Kawhi Leonard #2 of the LA Clippers warms up before a preseason game against the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center on December 11, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 11: Head coach Tyronn Lue of the LA Clippers watches during a preseason game against the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center on December 11, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

  • LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA – DECEMBER 11: Kawhi Leonard #2 and Paul George #13 of the LA Clippers laugh during a preseason game against the Los Angeles Lakers at Staples Center on December 11, 2020 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

  • The Lakers and Clippers tip off against each other, with no fans in attendance, to begin Friday night’s preseason game at Staples Center. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

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LOS ANGELES — In the minutes before tip-off, Montrezl Harrell ambled over to the opposing side where his old team was shooting. Patrick Beverley met him near midcourt with a hug, and the former brothers-in-arms shared a moment of warmth.

But once the game started on Friday, the two settled into their respective trenches. Harrell, the biggest-name free agent the Lakers landed during the shortened offseason, lined up for tip-off. Beverley walked by him, not saying a word, but as Harrell backpedaled on defense, Beverley gave him a healthy bump with his shoulder.

Let the games begin.

The Clippers and Lakers opened the preseason on Friday night at Staples Center, a venue that hadn’t hosted a basketball game since March 10 when the Lakers lost to the Brooklyn Nets. The two rivals who share a building but little else had last played two days before – since then, the Clippers have restructured after a postseason disappointment, while the Lakers won their 17th NBA championship in the Orlando bubble.

Harrell’s switching of allegiances – going from one of the most outspoken members of the Clippers to joining the defending champs, was one of the many notable differences. What hadn’t changed was Harrell’s dogged energy: By halftime, he had nine hard-earned points to go with 10 rebounds and had already drawn a charge while guarding Serge Ibaka, his Clippers replacement. He finished with 13 points and 12 rebounds in an 87-81 victory that had the characteristic sloppiness of the preseason (42 combined turnovers).

“This wasn’t a (time to) come out, ‘Hey how you guys doing?’ and laugh it up,” Harrell said. “Nah, I have a job. I had the mindset where I came to do it.”

Harrell was last seen as a drag in the Clippers’ losing effort against the Denver Nuggets, playing well below his typical standard as his team blew a 3-1 series lead in the second round of the playoffs. On Friday, he showed an aggressiveness, perhaps rooted in motivation to show the Clippers why they should have tried to bring him back in the offseason.

The Clippers responded in kind. While Beverley retweeted a video of his embrace with Harrell afterward with the caption “always love,” he also leaped out of his seat to clap when Harrell missed a third-quarter jump shot. Harrell waved it off: Pat being Pat.

“It’s not anything different than who I knew, or what I knew Pat brought to the table,” he said. “But it doesn’t faze me.”

There was a comforting familiarity to certain Staples Center trappings, from the warm golden glow of the Lakers’ home court to the baritone of public address announcer Lawrence Tanter, who lingered on his syllables as he introduced the home team as “the defending world champions.”

But in a mostly empty arena, the Lakers’ starting lineup featured very few of those defending champions: Harrell, Dennis Schröder and Wesley Matthews all made their Lakers debuts. The other two starters were Kyle Kuzma, who played off the bench last postseason, and Talen Horton-Tucker, who had few appearances at all as a rookie last season.

Horton-Tucker had 19 points, nine rebounds, four assists and three steals in 37 minutes to pace the Lakers. Kuzma had 18 points in 38 minutes, and Schröder added 10 points in 24 minutes.

LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Marc Gasol, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Markieff Morris all sat out as a precaution, working on their conditioning after an abbreviated two-month offseason. All donned purple warm-ups as if they could rush the court at any moment. But they saved their energy for celebrations, particularly relishing the night by the 20-year-old Horton-Tucker who drove to the basket with veteran confidence.

“He didn’t even finish well tonight at the rim – he’s still getting his legs under him a little bit,” Coach Frank Vogel said. “But still had 19 and nine, and great performance. Good start.”

Even before the game, Vogel expressed how different he knew it would be. Typically on his L.A. commute, he said, he gets excited to play in front of a crowd. In the preseason opener, the pre-recorded crowd noise was the only element remaining of a live audience. So far, neither the Lakers nor Clippers have plans to bring in fans, particularly as Los Angeles maintains a stay-at-home order.

But even being back on their old court felt like a partial restoration of normalcy, particularly the row of championship banners hanging on the wall – the Lakers will raise their 2020 edition before long.

“This building still has a ton of meaning to all of us,” Vogel said. “I think it’s going to be fun for our staff and players to be here. And hopefully fun for our fans to see it on TV.”

LIONEL HOLLINS RETURNS TO SIDELINE

In the Lakers’ run through the bubble, there were a few key contributors missing: One of them was 67-year-old assistant coach Lionel Hollins, a veteran voice on the staff and a two-time head coach. Hollins did not attend the Walt Disney World Campus out of concern for his medical risk as one of the older assistants in the league.

But in the Lakers’ first preseason game, Hollins joined the rest of the staff on the sideline, wearing a mask and sitting in socially distanced fashion along with the rest of the team.

Hollins was not immediately available for comment on Friday night, but Vogel mentioned it was Hollins’ choice to resume his normal game duties, despite the expectation that this NBA season will have increased risk due to travel outside of a bubble environment.

“I know he wanted to be part of it, he wanted to be part of the bubble,” Vogel said. “As to why he feels safer doing it, that’s really a question for him, but … my lens on it is that he saw the NBA is taking great care to keep everyone safe: protocols, wearing a mask, keeping distance. All those type of things, just leads to reason to believe that he can do his job and be safe.”

Montrezl Harrell picks it off and SOARS on the break! ✈😤@Lakers x #NBAPreseason pic.twitter.com/ruBF1RkGMM

— NBA (@NBA) December 12, 2020

“I came here with the mindset that I had a job to do.” @MONSTATREZZ (13 PTS, 12 REB, 2 AST) talks with @LakersReporter about facing his old team for the first time. pic.twitter.com/2vcQa6RTad

— Spectrum SportsNet (@SpectrumSN) December 12, 2020

Telling you right now! This kid is flat out SPECIAL! Mark my words https://t.co/KOYtlFxNVV

— LeBron James (@KingJames) December 12, 2020

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Lakers-Mavericks, Clippers-Nuggets part of NBA’s Christmas Day slate

Once again on Christmas, the Lakers and the Clippers will be two the featured teams on one of the big broadcasting days for the NBA – they just won’t play each other this year.

The defending champion Lakers will take on Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks at Staples Center, while the Clippers will head to Denver for a rematch with the Denver Nuggets team that shocked them in the playoffs last season.

The Lakers face the Mavericks at 5 p.m. PST, while the Clippers and Nuggets will air at 7:30 PST. Both games will be broadcast on ESPN, which first reported the games. The Lakers and Clippers faced off on Christmas last season at Staples Center.

Those are the first concrete games so far of a reduced 72-game regular-season schedule that is still being arranged behind the scenes. The NBA, which is tentatively scheduled to open its season on Dec. 22, is expected to announce the first half of the schedule, running through March 5, within a week. While the shortened offseason has been a logistical challenge in a process that usually takes the better part of a year, many NBA arenas have empty schedules due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Lakers-Mavericks matchup should feature three All-NBA first-team honorees from last season, with LeBron James and Anthony Davis (pending him signing an expected maximum-salary contract with the Lakers) going against Doncic, a top-four MVP finisher. Doncic and James were two of the three players in the league who averaged more than 25 points and 8 assists last season (Atlanta’s Trae Young was the other).

While forward Kristaps Porzingis is expected to be out until at least January with injury, the Lakers and Mavericks had compelling matchups last season, including a Lakers overtime win in Dallas. The Lakers had a 3-1 edge in the meetings last season. Doncic, who looked up to James as a child, is 1-5 against him in his career.

Kawhi Leonard and Paul George will get an early check from the Denver team that dismissed them in September, climbing back from a 3-1 deficit in their second-round series. The Nuggets boast All-NBA center Nikola Jokic and Jamal Murray, who was one of the strongest scorers in the bubble last postseason (26.5 ppg in the playoffs). The Clippers and Nuggets finished second and third in the Western Conference last season, respectively.

The five-game Christmas Day schedule opens with New Orleans at Miami (9 a.m. PT) and includes Golden State at Milwaukee (11:30 a.m. PT) and Brooklyn at Boston (2 p.m. PT).

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NBA players, owners agree to Dec. 22 start for 72-game regular season

The NBA season will be back in time for Christmas.

The NBA board of governors and the National Basketball Players Association have each agreed to play a reduced 72-game season starting on Dec. 22, an unprecedented short turnaround that the league hopes will help it recoup a steep dive in revenue and sync back with its traditional calendar schedule.

The agreement was first reported by The Athletic, following a vote by the league’s union representatives on Thursday evening. A source confirmed the majority agreement to Southern California News Group, which was later officially announced by the NBPA.

Teams are expected to report to training camp by Dec. 1, which will be mere weeks following free agency which has yet to set a start date. ESPN reported the NBA and NBPA will discuss moving up the start of free agency as soon as possible. The early start will give the NBA an estimated extra $500 million to $1 billion in revenue compared to several later dates in January that were considered.

Under the proposal, the season would finish no later than July 22, one day before the Tokyo Olympics and well ahead of football season – two heavyweight television competitors.

The urgency of beginning a new season has picked up in recent weeks, bolstered by the grim understanding that the league stands to lose even more revenue than the estimated $1.5 billion it lost last season, hit by the COVID-19 pandemic and frayed relations with China, a key source of international viewership. The NBA hopes the loss of fans in arenas – which accounts for as much as 40 percent of the league’s revenue – will be partially offset by a push to play as many games as possible for the 2020-21 season.

NBA players will feel a hit in their paychecks from that financial slide: The league is expected to hold as much as 20 percent of player salaries in escrow for the next two seasons to account for the dip in revenue, a figure that the NBPA executive committee will settle.

The Athletic reported that the league hopes to have 25 to 50 percent of arena suites filled with fans to start the season (depending on local regulations), with the aspiration that more fans could be brought in later in the season, as access to either rapid testing or a potential COVID-19 vaccine improves.

Many important questions about the season remain unresolved, including the logistics of travel in a COVID-19 environment, what circumstances would allow teams to begin bringing in more fans, and how games could be affected by positive coronavirus test results. The conclusion to the 2019-20 season was played inside the bubble at Disney World, which led to no positive tests among on-campus residents, but which the NBA quickly determined would be unfeasible to replicate for an entire regular season.

The NBPA also agreed to a proposal from its executive committee to grow the salary cap and luxury tax by a minimum of two percent, artificially inflating figures that are traditionally determined by annual revenue. The NBPA’s executive committee and the NBA still will hammer out final details, particularly in finances.

It’s unclear if the NBA will be more lenient with teams that choose to rest their stars, especially those with shortened offseasons. The Lakers and the Miami Heat have the shortest breaks of all teams, just 72 days after spending 95 in the bubble while finishing the season. In 2019, 131 days passed between the final playoff game and the start of the next regular season.

Several Lakers, including team NBPA representative Danny Green, publicly said they expected veterans on the team to play lighter minutes or even miss games. On an episode of his show “The Shop” that aired last week, LeBron James himself joked with former president Barack Obama: “I’m cherry-picking the whole first half of the season.” It’s unclear how those comments could reflect on how the Lakers actually embrace load management strategies, given that they had one of the oldest rosters in the NBA last season and James will turn 36 in December.

The quick turnaround could add stress to existing injury management strategies: Clippers star Kawhi Leonard sat out half of all 10 of the team’s back-to-back sets of games last season in order to care for what was described as a case of left knee patellar tendinopathy. During his introduction last month, head coach Tyronn Lue suggested that approach could continue.

The Clippers’ offseason will amount to 98 days, still shorter than usual. But while introducing the newly promoted Lue, team owner Steve Ballmer indicated that he was interested in putting his squad back on the court after a second-round exit in September.

“I’m itching, actually, to have the season get going again,” he said last month.

As the defending champions, the Lakers would likely play on opening night at Staples Center and receive their championship rings.

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Lakers’ 2020 season added up to even more than an NBA title

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — The final moments of the longest season in NBA history were dominated by a feeling that ran entirely counter to the 13 months that preceded it:

Absolute dead certainty.

The Lakers smothered the Miami Heat, not surrendering any sliver of space willingly and pummeling them on the other end of the floor with bruising runs that have made LeBron James and Anthony Davis respected and feared in the basketball world.

Championships are won with talent, which the Lakers had. But they are also won with brute force, which the Lakers had.

And so in the most unpredictable, most emotionally taxing and most endurance-testing season any basketball team has ever played, the Lakers came out on top, 106-93, rolling over the Heat in the sixth game of the series with a thudding sense of finality to their 16-5 postseason run. There will be no historical arguments: The Lakers were the best team, and it was in the refrigerator by halftime, when they led by 28 points.

It was the 17th championship in franchise history for an organization that grew used to winning, but slogged through a decade without a Finals appearance and six of those without even making the playoffs.

James (28 points), in his 17th season, captained the effort for his fourth Finals MVP award – an honor he’s received along with every title he’s ever won at previous stints in Miami and Cleveland. But his fourth championship is one of his most defining: He became one of just four men in NBA history to win titles with three different franchises (teammate Danny Green also joined this club) and the only one of the quartet to be a foundational player on each of those teams.

James savored the moment with particular flair: He emerged from the victorious locker room several times to spray bystanders with champagne, and he puffed a cigar during his postgame press conference, calm as the smoke circled around him. It was a respite from some darker moments, as he called them, when he questioned the mission while isolated for 95 days in the bubble.

“I heard some rumblings from people that are not in the bubble, oh, you don’t have to travel, whatever,” he said. “People just doubting what goes on in here. This is right up there with one of the greatest accomplishments I’ve had.”

But even by his own Herculean standards, this Lakers clinching moment was particularly dominant: Changing their lineup to match a smaller Heat group, they outscored Miami by 20 points in the second quarter alone.

So inevitable was the approaching Lakers championship, Frank Vogel, the coach ever wary of putting the cart before the horse, told his team in a huddle: “We’re in the midst of a defensive masterpiece.”

History might remember these Lakers for the series that didn’t happen, as the Clippers and Milwaukee Bucks bowed out before wish-list super matches could take place. But here’s what did happen: The Lakers burst the bubble for the hottest team in Disney; they corralled two former MVPs; they knocked off one of the most impressive underdogs in recent postseason memory, and they wrapped it all up by making the team renowned for its toughness finally quit.

James, 35, stands atop a number of the NBA’s most hallowed playoff records, and in Game 6 he summited another: He passed Derek Fisher with 260 total playoff games played. He has more minutes, points and wins than anyone in playoff history – the only thing James is truly still chasing are the titles themselves.

For Davis – the teammate James first started leading to Los Angeles with a whisper back in November of 2018 – it was the first championship of a career that has long held great expectations. The NCAA national player of the year, March Madness champion and four-time All-NBA forward added a ring to his résumé at 27 – a fulfillment of a promise James made to him when they met for the first time as teammates.

Davis is expected to exercise a player option to become a free agent this summer, though few believe he’ll leave the Lakers. He declined to say he was coming back, but snuck in a reference to “this first year in L.A.”

“This has been nothing but joy,” he said. “Nothing but amazement.”

If any NBA champion has deserved to be known as “survivors,” it is these Lakers, who finished their season 353 days after it first began – longer than any NBA season in history.

It was lengthened by a four-and-a-half month hiatus for the coronavirus pandemic, an event that stopped the Lakers in their tracks as they were entering their best stretch of basketball. For much of that wait, the members of an aging roster were left unsure if they’d ever get the chance to fulfill their playoff potential at all.

It was a season interrupted by the death of Kobe Bryant in shocking fashion in January. The team was leveled by the news of the deadly helicopter crash. Players didn’t speak publicly for a week as they spent the ensuing days weeping over the memories of an NBA icon who had inspired them, challenged them and loomed over the franchise even in life in his operatic, memorable 20-year-career.

It was a year when the defining moments often happened behind closed doors: dinners locked in a hotel tower in Shanghai; tearfully trading stories of Bryant in the practice facility days after he died; terse discussions in a Florida ballroom about whether the season would re-restart.

Inevitably, the Lakers emerged from these moments – showing strength and rededication to pursuing a championship.

The Lakers were 21.8 seconds away from that title in Game 5 before their dream was deferred a little longer: Jimmy Butler’s 35-point triple-double, his second of the series, pushed the Heat past the Lakers, as did a missed shot by Green and a turnover by Markieff Morris. Green, who withstood a social media-driven storm of fury, bounced back with 11 points and five rebounds in the clincher.

The last Lakers championship was won in 2010, when Bryant led a seven-game effort concluding with an 83-79 score indicative of a different era of basketball. In what would be the last of his five championships with the franchise, Bryant mounted the scorer’s table to beat his chest and whoop in front of an exuberant crowd with a swirl of confetti raining down through the scene.

It was a time when the Lakers – who had been to seven Finals during the decade – considered annual title shots their birthright. The ensuing decade, with no Finals runs in between, saw the NBA’s proudest franchise profoundly humbled by losing seasons, a rotation of disappointing contracts and failed coaching hires. The architects of the Lakers’ last championship teams, Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak, did not last through the fallow years.

It spoke volumes that Kyle Kuzma and Alex Caruso, the two youngest rotation players on the team, are also the longest-tenured Lakers remaining on the roster with just three seasons under their belts.

Even the turning point wasn’t an abrupt ramp back to contention: When James signed with the Lakers in July of 2018, it was trumpeted as a return to the highest rung of the league. But the season was derailed by injuries and unconquerable chemistry issues after trade rumors for Davis spread into the locker room. The Lakers continued a six-year drought – it led to the dramatic resignation of executive Magic Johnson, who had been one of the people who had helped lure James to Los Angeles in the first place.

James hadn’t missed the postseason in 14 years, and was bitterly disappointed by the results. But embattled General Manager Rob Pelinka promised to build him a winner: “Once he put that trust in us, we had to deliver – there was no other option.”

The Lakers decided to change their approach after trading the bulk of their youth for Davis, opting for veterans over young talent. Experience and savvy proved critical during the playoff run, especially from unexpected sources.

Rajon Rondo, a former Celtic who had struggled through a pair of regular seasons as a Laker, morphed into his playoff super-self, returning from a broken thumb to emerge as a capable back-up and co-general to James. The most surprising of these was Dwight Howard, who first left the Lakers in 2013 after one of the most disappointing campaigns in franchise history. He was re-signed as a journeyman last summer on a non-guaranteed contract with low-risk and high-reward – by the Finals, he had become the Lakers’ starting center with his energetic defense and physicality.

Presiding over the affair was Vogel, a hire who was not the Lakers’ first choice last spring as they ran a meandering coaching search. But it turned out the even-handed, upbeat New Jersey native was the perfect man to step into the hornet’s nest of high expectations and high-profile stars: His low-ego approach and dedication to study and preparation was embraced by his roster, and the Lakers quickly adopted a defense-first approach that helped them to a 52-19 record that led the Western Conference.

It was the first championship for Vogel, who had never rammed past James’ great Miami Heat teams when he led Indiana, but he now joins the ranks of Paul Westhead, Pat Riley and Phil Jackson. When he took the job, he said, it was about a belief he would coach “the greatest basketball player the universe has ever seen.”

“Until you’re around him every day, you’re coaching him, you’re seeing his mind, you’re seeing his adjustments, seeing the way he leads the group,” he said. “You think you know – you don’t know.”

The organization drew neck-and-neck with the Boston Celtics as the NBA’s all-time leaders in titles with 17. Coming down from her plexiglass perch to join the team on the floor during the trophy presentation, Jeanie Buss enjoyed the revelry of the first Lakers championship under her sole stewardship since her father, Jerry Buss, died in 2013. She stood beside Pelinka, the front office executive she stood behind when he was skewered by franchise legend Magic Johnson on national airwaves. Pelinka helped shape the title-winning roster in July after swinging the trade for Davis, promising to reporters afterward: “Anything short of a championship is not success.”

The title itself was celebrated with unusual intimacy, as the Lakers had some family members with them on the court, and some waving from the upper tier of the mostly empty arena. A handful of children made snow angels in the white and gold confetti strewn across the court.

James had a lonelier night than most, FaceTiming his mother Gloria from his back on a carpet outside the locker room. But it robbed him of little satisfaction.

“It doesn’t matter where it is if you win a championship,” James said. “A bubble, Miami, Golden State – it doesn’t matter. When you get to this point, it’s one of the greatest feelings in the world for a basketball player to be able to win at the highest level.”

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