LOS ANGELES – A 68-game in-play event finally took place Monday night: the Lakers played their small ball starting lineup for the sixth time this season.
This may seem like an unremarkable marker, and for any other NBA team it probably is. But for the Lakers, his LeBron James lineup at center with Russell Westbrook, Malik Monk, Austin Reaves and Stanley Johnson is now his most played starting lineup of the season.
It is an indication of the ugly injury situation that the team has faced throughout the year, in addition to its inconsistent game. Coach Frank Vogel spent most of the season pulling the strings, never starting any group more than five times before Monday against the Toronto Raptors. The Lakers have played 32 different starting lineups this season.
With Anthony Davis abandoned, the Lakers came into Monday night with a 7-6 lead when James plays center. While it hasn’t led to as many wins as the team has hoped lately, the 37-year-old seemed to believe that joining a group was a better option than continuing to research.
“Obviously, it’s a small dose, but I mean we’ve had so many different changes in training this year and we’re trying to figure out which ones work best, which was probably the only one that exceeded .500,” he said. “So we try to keep up with that. We try to have some consistency with some formations.”
It was not true that the group had gathered for Monday’s game. Among the team he widely believed that James, who was dealing with pain in his left knee, could take the second night of a consecutive break after playing 30 minutes with 31 points against Phoenix. But after warming up, James decided to play in what Vogel described as a “real decision in game time.”
The Lakers and James themselves have acknowledged that the knee, which has caused him to lose six games in the last two months, continues to annoy James even though he has kept his attack on NBA scoring leaders. The Lakers have a consecutive run at the end of this week, visiting Toronto on Friday before flying to Washington for a game on Saturday.
James said last week that the team’s weak place in the standings didn’t motivate him to play an injury he could normally sit in.
“It would probably be uniform no matter what happened,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if we were nine games below .500 or nine games above .500. It all depends on how you feel.”
The Lakers already have few options for the starters, but those options were further reduced on Monday afternoon when the team announced that veteran center Dwight Howard would miss the Raptors game because of a family emergency. The team said it hoped to join the team on the next road trip.
Softening the blow to lose the only center left: the double contract Wenyen Gabriel, who has been earning minutes since signing with the team two weeks ago. The slim 6-foot-9 forward is still a draft pick in his third season in the NBA, but after being suspicious of his youth, Vogel seems to want to throw him into games as a change of pace player.
“He has a compelling skill set,” Vogel said. “Very athletic and long. He can make plays defensively, bounce basketball, protect the edge, just by having a physical presence. And LeBron’s energetic youth was a hit for us this year. So he showed a little bit of that from the start.”
After lineup instability, Lakers stick with small-ball group – Press Telegram Source link After lineup instability, Lakers stick with small-ball group – Press Telegram