With LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Kyle Kuzma and Dwight Howard all held out of the Lakers’ third and final scrimmage against the Washington Wizards on Monday afternoon, Lakers’ head coach, Frank Vogel opted to give rotation players, newly added team members and the Lakers’ spirited young core extended minutes.
Though this was not, by any means, a lineup that Vogel will use when the NBA resumes regular season play on Thursday or in the playoffs, the Lakers scored their highest first half (69) of the three scrimmages and pulled out a 123-116 victory over the Wizards. Veteran starters Danny Green and JaVale McGee only played in the first half.
Markieff Morris, who rejoined the Lakers late last week, after being away from the Orlando Bubble with an excused absence, played a little over six minutes in the first quarter before being taken out of his first scrimmage.
That left the floor wide open for J.R. “Swish” Smith and Dion “Philly Cheese” Waiters and the dynamic duo went off for a combined 38 points. Smith got a hot hand and swooshed six-of-seven three-pointers and finished with a game-high of 20 points in 25 minutes to go along with five rebounds. While Waiters added 18 points and six assists.
Vogel expressed that the pair made a strong case for cracking into the Lakers’ playoff rotation.
“They both definitely did,” Vogel said. “Particularly today was probably the best day for both of them. We know they’re talented.
“For me, it’s been an opportunity to shape their play the way we want them to fall into their roles. Their roles are different in terms of JR. We asked him this morning to be more aggressive in his catch-and-shoot offense. He was just that. Knocked down six-for-seven.”
Smith had his best game after playing limited minutes in each of the first two scrimmages, given his extended time off from playing in an NBA game before signing with the Lakers.
“When the guys are coachable and do what you’re asking them to do and do it at a high level, they definitely make a case for being in the playoff rotation.
Of course, an endorsement from the Lakers’ fearless leader, James does not hurt their chances of being more in the fold when the postseason rolls around either. James posted a graphic of Smith and Waiters stat lines from the game on his Instagram story with the caption “Swishaaaaa & Cheese” with a few cheese emojis.
It was not only a breakout game for the Lakers’ newest recruits, but for Alex Caruso who slid into the starting lineup after not playing in the last scrimmage against the Magic due to back soreness. Caruso also had his best game of the scrimmages as he notched 17 points, dished six assists, grabbed five rebounds, and three steals.
“It felt good today,” Caruso reflected. “I made a couple shots, which obviously makes the stat line look a little better. But the things that I do that don’t always show up are the things that I think help this team a lot. Whether it’s coverage on defense, boxing out, making the extra pass, and I was on the receiving end of some extra passes today.”
Vogel added, “Alex is a vital piece to our championship aspirations is the simplest way to put it. He’s just so well-rounded and excels in so many different areas that he’s kind of a jack-of-all-trades and has really been invaluable to what we’re trying to get accomplished. His playmaking is just one of those things.”
The new young trio in Kostas Antetokounmpo, Talen Horton-Tucker and Devontae Cacok had an opportunity to play quality minutes as well.
In just 13 minutes on the court, Cacok brought some youthful energy, scoring 11 points on five-for-seven shooting and grabbed 10 boards.
“Devontae is just a monster with his aggressiveness on the boards, his physical play, his hustle aspect to his game,” commented Vogel. “He just impacts the game.”
Antetokounmpo jumped at every shot that came in his path and grabbed seven rebounds over the course of his 23 minutes.
“And then Kostas has incredible length and has shown promise as an elite rim protector; can fit right along in the line with JaVale and Dwight and the length that we present at the basket,” Vogel stated. “Both of those guys have bright futures and I would trust using them if we needed to.”
Frank Vogel on Kostas Antetokounmpo:
“Kostas has shown promise as an elite rim protector to fit right along in line of JaVale and Dwight. The length that we present at the basket. Both of those guys have bright futures, we can use them if we needed to.” #Lakeshow pic.twitter.com/d04RAVTCKl
— Laurantine (@LoJoMedia) July 27, 2020
The Lakers went 2-1 in their scrimmages as the team eased back into basketball shape in the Orlando NBA Bubble. Vogel experimented with different lineups and gave everyone a chance to make a case for why they should have minutes when the postseason rolls around.
The Lakers are deep at every position; a good problem for Vogel to have, especially when it comes time for the NBA playoff push in the Lakers’ quest or a championship.
When LeBron James promised Laker fans that he would bring the team that missed the postseason the last six seasons back to prominence, he was telling the truth. Heading into the NBA restart on Thursday when the Lakers will face off against the Clippers, this team is the No. 1 seed in the stacked Western Conference with the second-best record in the league.