Lakers' game plan for Kings rematch all about snarl and LeBron James' versatility

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Los Angeles, CA, Sunday, November 28, 2021 - Los Angeles Lakers forward LeBron James (6) exults.
Lakers forward LeBron James celebrates during the second half of a 110-106 win over the Detroit Pistons on Sunday. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

It felt like it was only five minutes ago that the Lakers' tired defense helplessly watched the younger, and maybe hungrier, Sacramento Kings score without any notable resistance in the third overtime Friday night.

So when the Lakers see the Kings again, this time in Sacramento on Tuesday, they probably will play with some extra snarl, ready to outwork a team they believe just stole a win from them.

“We should play with that type of aggression every time on the floor,” coach Frank Vogel said Monday. “We want to be a team that takes pride in that.”

The Lakers haven’t been that type of team — they haven’t been a lot of things consistently this season except for confusing. Yet the team is slowly discovering its identity as it gets healthier.

One wrinkle that seems like it could be here to stay is LeBron James acting as the team’s center in some lineups with Anthony Davis off the court.

“He’s the most versatile player in the game,” Vogel said of James. “The ability to play point, the ability to play center — but the definition of those positions has blended in the modern NBA. Centers bring it up and initiate. Point guards roll to the basket.

“It’s a different game now, but to have someone that can be effective as a roller or as a playmaker with the ball is just an incredible weapon.”

Lakers forward LeBron James passes the ball over Detroit Pistons center Isaiah Stewart.
Lakers forward LeBron James passes the ball over Detroit Pistons center Isaiah Stewart (28) in the first half of the Lakers' win Sunday. (Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

Finding ways to utilize their weapons most effectively has been one of the biggest challenges in the first quarter of the season. Getting the Lakers to play harder than their opponents has been one too.

Vogel questioned the Lakers’ defensive effort against the Detroit Pistons on Sunday, and he again said the Lakers haven’t been as consistent as necessary.

“We’re working on it,” Vogel said. “We’re challenging our guys to make sure we bring it. And part of it is just having a different group. It’s easy to say when the team executes poorly or lacks familiarity with one another, it’s easy to say the urgency’s not there. That’s the go-to from everyone on the outside looking in. But we have to establish cohesion, and that takes time.”

They also have to get healthy.

While Trevor Ariza won’t be on the court against the Kings, he is progressing in his return from ankle surgery. Ariza’s running on his full body weight and has been on the court for shooting work as he tries to make his season debut.

“I don’t have a definite date or anything like that. It’s all on when the doctors clear or the way my body feels and responds to more loading, more work,” Ariza said Monday. “That’s kind of the gauge on when I’ll be able to be out there safely.”

Vogel said Ariza’s presence will help the Lakers do what they want to do on defense with smaller lineups minus a traditional center.

“We feel like he’s going to be a real key to unlocking this team’s identity,” Vogel said of Ariza.

In the short term, though, finding an edge is just going to have to do.

UP NEXT

AT SACRAMENTO

When: 7 p.m., Tuesday

On the air: TV: Spectrum SportsNet; Radio: 710, 1330

Update: The Lakers have further committed to playing smaller lineups even if they’re starting games with a traditional center. It’s given them some better stretches for longer periods. Avery Bradley (hand) and James (abdomen strain) are both listed as questionable, though James said he’d play. The Kings will try to again attack the Lakers’ problematic defense from the perimeter, led by De’Aaron Fox.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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