Lakers aim for title despite COVID-19 and social justice concerns

The NBA has decided to resume its 2019-20 season July 30. That means the Los Angeles Lakers have a chance to pick up where they left off before the COVID-19 pandemic knocked the league and the rest of the nation off its feet. Where the Lakers left off was having the best record in the Western Conference and the second overall mark in the league, going 49-14 before play was officially postponed. 

Rust, lack of chemistry, and the unknown when play resumes will be the challenges the Lakers have in front of them when they officially kick things off July 23 in a scrimmage game against the Dallas Mavericks, a team that went 40-27 during the regular season before play was interrupted. 

The Lakers will have scrimmage games against Dallas, Orlando (July 25), and Washington (July 27) before they dive into the season re-start in Orlando, Florida. Because of the chilling effects of the COVID-19, all NBA teams will play at the Walt Disney World Resort in a “bubble” tournament. Only 22 of the league teams received the green light to play. 

Pascal Siakam
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November 10, 2019 © Mark Hammond/News4usonline – Toronto forward Pascal Siakam goes to the basket against Dwight Howard of the Los Angeles Lakers.

“We all know it’s a risk,” said small forward Jared Dudley. “I think right now, we are all watching the news, and we keep seeing the cases in LA (Los Angeles), California…I mean, Arizona, Miami, Florida. We see what’s going on. But we look at it this way. We literally get tested every other day. If we’re positive, they quarantine us to make sure we’re right. When we get down there, we have to take two tests a week. We have to quarantine 48 hours there…We have to do that. And then when we’re out there, I mean, you have the best medical experts. I keep trying to tell people, at the end of the day, man, I don’t think anyone fears like death. I think they fear they can potentially get it, and I think they would think it’ll suck because they have to be quarantined for seven days in a little house that they know nothing about.”

How precarious is this situation with the Coronavirus still very much in play? The Milwaukee Bucks, the Eastern Conference team that posted a league-best record of 53-12, had to close their practice facility due to reported positive tests of COVID-19. Dudley admits the risks are there, but says he is okay with going to play.  

“We understand the risks of playing basketball while we have to be able to play,” Dudley said. “I also think its a duty to be able to entertain, but for me, I’m comfortable going there. I think it’s a little bit sad that you’re going to miss your family for potentially eight to six to three months, depending on situations. I think that’s been the difficult part more than anything, but I’m also excited.”   

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Los Angeles Lakers center JaVale McGee scored 33 points and had 20 rebounds in a 111-106 defeat to the Brooklyn Nets on March 22, 2019, at Staples Center. Photo by Dennis J. Freeman/News4usonline

Besides COVID-19, there is the matter of the death of George Floyd, whose death on video at the hands of police, has sparked a firestorm of calls of social justice unrest around the world. Lakers head coach Frank Vogel expects the team’s social justice message to come through in their play as other statements they make off of it.   

“On top of using their voice and their platform to affect change, I do think that they’ll be motivated to do it with their play as well,” Vogel said. “This is something that is very important to our league, and I do think that it will carry on to the court with guys being motivated to perform well.”  

Like the NBA, the Lakers want to be out front on this issue as teams work on their social messaging statements they plan on making once play resumes. 

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Feb. 21, 2020 © Mark Hammond/News4usonline – Los Angeles Lakers forward guard Rajon Rondo glides his way to the basket for two points against the Memphis Grizzlies.

On top of having to navigate safety measures around COVID-19 and wanting to be part of the solution to the imminent social justice crisis now gripping the country, the Lakers still have to play basketball. In order to win the championship, the Lakers have to take their play to an even higher standard than when they were playing during the regular season, and in a more condensed and uncertain setting. 

This is where the NBA’s biggest stars will have their chance to shine. And the Lakers have two of the biggest stars in the league in LeBron James and Anthony Davis

James led the league in assists (10.6) when the season stopped. Davis, on the other hand, showed off his dominance by placing third in the NBA in blocks per game (2.4) and ranking ninth in scoring (26.7 points per game). Davis, in a Zoom call with reporters, said the last couple of months have been pretty chaotic.

“It’s been a crazy three months I’m pretty sure for everybody,” Davis said. “Now that we kind of have an idea of what’s going to happen…not too sure about everything that’s going to happen in Orlando, but I think, for the most part, we’ve got the gist of it and try to move forward and stay safe as best we can.”

Davis did say that the hiatus from the long grind of the NBA season has been good for his body. 

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LeBron James going strong to the basket against former teammate Lonzo Ball, now playing for the New Orleans Pelicans. Photo by Sammy Saludo for News4usonline

“It’s been good,” Davis said. “It’s me a chance to let my body recover, kind of take a midseason breakdown, and just let everything heal and let me get back to where I was at the beginning of the year. It’s been good for me to kind of let some of those lingering injuries I had towards the time the NBA stopped to kind of let go, recover and heal and get back into the best version of myself.”      

With all of that said, the Lakers, like every other team, have to have quality depth to win a title. The team has already lost guard Avery Bradley, who chose to opt-out of the re-start plan because of family concerns. That’s a big blow for the Lakers because Bradley is a capable scorer and is a lockdown defender. The Lakers signed sharpshooter J.R. Smith to take Bradley’s roster spot. 

However, the wildcard for the Lakers is whether or not center Dwight Howard will join the team. In a statement released to CNN via his agent in June, Howard would prefer to sit out the season due to the social climate the nation is in.  

“I agree with Kyrie (Irving). Basketball, or entertainment period, isn’t needed at this moment, and will only be a distraction. Sure it might not distract us the players, but we have resources at hand majority of our community don’t have. And the smallest distraction for them, can start a trickle-down effect that may never stop. Especially with the way the climate is now. I would love nothing more than to win my very first NBA Championship. But the unity of My People would be an even bigger Championship, that’s just too beautiful to pass up. What better time than now for us to be focusing on our families?

“This is a rare opportunity that, I believe, we as a community should be taking full advantage of. When have we ever had this amount of time to sit and be with our families? This is where our Unity starts. At home! With Family!! European Colonization stripped us of our rich history, and we have yet to sit down and figure us out. The less distractions, the more we can put into action into rediscovering ourselves. Nations come out of families. Black/African American is not a Nation or Nationality. It’s time Our Families became their own Nations. No Basketball till we get things resolved.”

What happens next is anybody’s guess. Right now, the Lakers and the league are moving forward with plans to play, although some players, like Howard, reject the idea of playing at this moment. Either way, it’s going to be an interesting ride. 

Editor’s note: Feature image of Los Angeles Lakers forward Lebron James at practice appears courtesy of Lakers.com

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