After a long road trip, Lakers ready to see their fans

Fans won’t be able to enter STAPLES Center with bags of any type anymore. Bringing cash is no longer an option. And while we’re mentioning all the different caveats to have the chance again to catch live entertainment at STAPLES Center, you should make sure that you’re strapped with your COVID-19 vaccination card (or a copy of it) and/or proof of a negative COVID-19 test before you’re allowed to step inside of the arena.

But what the heck. At least there is that option. For over a year, fans didn’t even have that because of the pandemic. Virtual press conferences and Zoom meetings have become the standard playbook for media, players, coaches as well as executives. And because of COVID-19, sporting arenas had become ghost towns.

The COVID-19 pandemic has changed a lot of the way sports, including the NBA, now operate and do things. With the outbreak of COVID-19 cases dramatically trickling down, Los Angeles County is now a go when it comes to bringing fans back to entertainment venues such as STAPLES Center. Oh, what a relief that is for the Los Angeles Lakers.

“Can’t wait. Man, I can’t wait,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said during a video conference after Los Angeles had defeated the Charlotte Hornets 101-93 in the last contest of a seven-game road trip. “The mystique of being in that building with our great fans is a big part of why it’s so cool to be a Laker. It’s just been absent this year. It’s been missed. We’re excited to have our fans back for sure.”

Marking the calendar of the fan arrival is April 15. Not only will the Lakers be entertaining their fans for the first time since March 10, 2020, when they played the Brooklyn Nets, but they’ll also be especially revved up as they go head-to-head against the Boston Celtics.

“I think it’ll be a lot of fun, “Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma said. “Obviously, STAPLES [Center] misses fans in the arena, and we do too. It’s going to be really exciting to have fans back, especially…Is it Boston we’ll have fans? [It’s] Only fitting we have fans back during that game, to have fans in the championship banner raised, whenever that is in May. So, it’s exciting.”

For much of the past year, Los Angeles County operated in the most restrictive tier (purple) of the four tiers outlined by public and elected officials as the state grappled to get a hold on COVID-19. As of April 5, the county moved into the Orange tier (moderate), which would allow fans to attend sporting events such as a Lakers game live. Sports leagues like Major League Baseball (locally) jumped out in front of the line in allowing fans back.

In their home opener on April 9, the Los Angeles Dodgers had more than 15,000 fans turn out in attendance. When the COVID-19 outbreak hit with a thundering rush last spring, the Lakers like the rest of the NBA, had to shut down from playing in front of spectators. The state, according to April 13 numbers, is now at 4.7 COVID-19 cases per 100,00 people. There were 129,157 COVID-19 tests taken statewide with a 1.5% positivity rate, according to the COVID19.CA.Gov website.

This is positive news for a state ravaged by COVID-19 throughout the pandemic. With fans enjoying their favorite pastime, perhaps there is light at the end of the tunnel. Celebrating the franchise’s 17th NBA title (against the Miami Heat) would be a good place to start.

The team won a championship last season while playing in a bubble format in Florida. And because of the pandemic, the Lakers never did get a chance to celebrate with their Purple and Gold faithful after winning the NBA title. That’s all about to change.

Fans attending the team’s final game of the regular season will have the opportunity to witness the Lakers unveil their championship banner prior to playing the Houston Rockets on May 12. Guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope talked about the synergy having fans back in the Lakers home arena will bring.

“It could be a big impact, you know, that energy,” Caldwell-Pope said. “I’ve been playing basketball for a long time. That energy that crowds give you, that you feed off of, that could be big for…not even just for me, but for the team, for any individual player on the team. That energy fills you up. You’re just ready to just out there and just play, and just enjoy and not really worry about anything else.”

After going 4-3 on their latest road trip, it would be an understatement to say the Lakers are glad to be home.

All things considered, the Lakers are in pretty good shape for a postseason run to try to repeat as NBA champs. Owning the best record in the league, though, is out of the window with LeBron James and Anthony Davis missing significant playing time because of injuries. The Lakers’ season ends May 16 against the New Orleans Pelicans.

That means the Lakers have left than 20 games to play in the regular season. So even when James and Davis come back, it’s extremely doubtful Los Angeles will be able to overtake the Utah Jazz as the No. 1 seed in the Western Conference or sneak by the Phoenix Suns for the No. 2 position unless both teams have epic collapses down the stretch.

They probably won’t even get by the Los Angeles Clippers at No. 3. But the good news the Lakers are holding at No.5 in the Western Conference. Even better information to swallow is the fact the Lakers just didn’t go into a corner and hide after James went down with a high ankle sprain on March 20 against the Atlanta Hawks.

While he has not played particularly well since signing with the team, center Andre Drummond’s presence in the paint has given the Lakers a towering force on the defensive end. This will only serve the defending champs for the postseason when James and Davis are back at full strength.

“Offensively, this is probably the worst I’ve played in my career, Drummond said. “You know, I’m still trying to figure it out here. I’m not allowing it to take me out of my game. I know why I’m here, which is to help this team defensively. Offensively, it’ll come for me. And I think for us as a team, we’re going to find a way to get it done once guys come back healthy.”

Featured Image: January 8, 2021, Los Angeles, California, USA: LeBron James #23 of the Los Angeles Lakers during their regular season NBA game with the Chicago Bulls on Friday January 8, 2021 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by PI/Zuma Press/Icon Sportswire)