LOS ANGELES — With the Los Angeles Lakers’ first preseason game looming Friday against the LA Clippers — which will be just six days into training camp and 61 days since their clinching Game 6 NBA Finals victory — coach Frank Vogel sounds like he’s calling off the big guns.
“We haven’t made that decision yet, but I will say it’s probably unlikely that they play,” Vogel said Tuesday when asked about LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
It’s the first of four preseason games on the schedule for Los Angeles, the most the NBA allows. The Lakers will play the Clippers again in an exhibition game Sunday and then go on the road for games against the Phoenix Suns on Dec. 16 and 18.
Then the regular season starts Dec. 22 at home against the Dallas Mavericks.
“I just want to make sure I’m good to go,” Davis told reporters. “I don’t want to rush into anything. We’ve seen, unfortunately, how football went with no preseason, shorter season, and a lot of injuries happen. You don’t kind of want that same thing. So I’m going build up the right way. Coach has been doing a great job of doing that with our team, building up the right way.”
Vogel said he spent the first day of training camp with 75% of the practice — which didn’t last much longer than an hour — dedicated to drills and 25% to live action. The second day of camp, he made it 50-50 and the third day, Tuesday, involved 75% live action and 25% drills.
Not only are the practices “far shorter” than what Vogel has done in the past during training camp, but he’s already planned an off day Wednesday to get his players off their feet.
“I feel good, body feels good, but at the same time I got to make sure the people around me, my training staff, my trainer, training staff, coaches, also be in my ear like, ‘AD, calm down,'” Davis said. “I’ve been great doing practice. I’ve been in every drill, being in condition and getting back into the swing of things, but like I said, you want to be smart about it as well.”
The Lakers are taking a similar tack with how they plan to manage Davis’ workload in the frontcourt this season. Los Angeles added Marc Gasol and Montrezl Harrell to replace big men JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard.
“They can play at least the roles that Dwight and JaVale did from a minutes standpoint, maybe more,” Vogel said of Gasol and Harrell. “That’s something that will play out over the course of the season.
“But we’d still like to have a blend of AD playing at the 4 as well as playing at the 5. Our ability to shift back and forth last year in the playoffs was pivotal and important to us winning the championship. It’s something that we’ll balance again this season.”
Davis, who announced only somewhat jokingly at his introductory news conference with the Lakers in 2019 that he preferred playing power forward, seems on board with the options Vogel presented.
“We’ll mix it in, take it game by game and see what happens,” Davis said. “We were very successful when I was at the 5, so maybe it’s something that we still kind of wait for the playoffs again, then over the course of the season kind of toy with it game by game.”
Before the Lakers get to the games and worry about an opponent, they are being mindful of guarding against COVID-19. They won the title in a “bubble” in Orlando, Florida, where not one player, coach or staff member tested positive for the coronavirus in the 96 days.
This season is different.
“It’s going to be a lot tougher, to be honest,” Davis said. “The bubble, you knew you were safe. Here, you just don’t. I mean, the league has sent all these guidelines about not going to bars and restaurants and clubs and all this stuff to try to make it safe for us. But, we got to hold each other accountable.”
Davis said the team had a “lengthy conversation” Monday about what everyone should be doing to stay safe.
“We have a veteran group,” he said, “so I think our guys know what’s at stake outside of basketball, with their life and people’s lives around you. So guys definitely have to be careful and as the season goes on, we got to continue to not let our guard down.”
As a veteran group, many of the players on the Lakers’ roster have families at home and will have to manage their households to not only keep their loved ones safe, but not put the team at risk.
“It’s going to be a lot of pressure because we did get the memos, and one of the things that was on there was if your kids have games during this time, we can’t attend it,” Kentavious Caldwell-Pope said. “That’s going to be hard for guys that like supporting their kids in basketball and anything else that they do outside of their home.”
Caldwell-Pope mentioned another secondary safety precaution that some of the husbands on the team aren’t looking forward to.
“And then having a conversation with your wife about her friends, that’s more stress,” he said. “It’s a lot.”