Lakers try to keep focus for season

Dan Woike Los Angles
Times (TNS)
Laker players including LeBron James, center, celebrate the NBA Championship after defeating the Heat in Game 6 of the NBA FInals in Orlando, Florida on Oct. 11, 2020.

LOS ANGELES - Who wasn't there? What didn't they do? Is it the virus?

It's the questions that rush to the foreground whenever an NBA coach talks about a practice in the pandemic era, the doors to the building shut, the desire to protect privacy overshadowing transparency.

On the same day the Portland Trail Blazers shut their facility because of a trio of positive tests within the organization, the Los Angeles Lakers plowed ahead, holding their first team workout even if everyone wasn't on the court.

"We did not have a full slate of the rest of the guys," Lakers coach Frank Vogel said after Sunday's practice. "But I prefer to not get into how many guys were not here or which guys were not here."

For a moment, you wondered if the Lakers, too, had been decimated by this virus, the start of their season disrupted while their home county reels from the weight of pandemic. Within moments, Vogel assured the media that the Lakers had most of the team on the court.

Later, veteran guard Wesley Matthews said the team was only without recently signed Quinn Cook and Alfonzo McKinnie. Cook is still going through incoming protocols while McKinnie's absence was excused, per a team official.

Regardless, today could look different than tomorrow which could look different the day after that.

Last week, the NBA announced results from the first round of COVID-19 testing - 48 players testing positive between Nov. 24-28 out of 546 players tested.

As of now, all the Lakers know for sure is that they have a preseason game set for Friday against the Los Angeles Clippers, the wear and tear from last season still fresh.

"Well, we're beginning. I mean, this is the season now," Vogel said. "We have to put our system in. We have to build our offensive system each day. Build our coverages out. Make sure everybody is on the same page with that. And that first game will be the first opportunity to try what we've been working on against an opponent, just like any other year."

But because of the virus, the Lakers know they're not in "any other year."

"This is not a normal training camp. This is not a normal season," Harrell said. "It's definitely going to take some adjusting and, you know, things we're going to have to learn and do ... kind of on the fly to an extent."

It's why the Lakers have to walk a tightrope all season, a journey that begins with just four scheduled practices before the team takes the court for a preseason game. But the balance between work and rest won't be over once the Lakers clear the preseason.

"I honestly think it's going to be all year long," Vogel said Sunday. "And look, every year, that's part of the coach's job is to measure this with whatever environment you're building up to. I think the early stages is where you're going to feel it the most and be concerned about it the most. The first week, two weeks, three weeks, get into training camp and games and by the first week of real, regular-season games, the intensity ramps up naturally. So there's going to be a concern with how much you're doing then. But it will be something we'll measure all year."

And at least for the near future, the Lakers (and the NBA) are going to have to deal with the fallout from the pandemic.

"Well, I mean everything that I've seen here is top-notch as far as making sure the protocols are followed," Matthews said. "And a lot of it is going to come down to the accountability of oneself about being part of this organization, being part of this championship organization and wanting to repeat - and for myself, wanting to be in that game and be the last team standing.

"You gotta hold yourself accountable. ... If we want to be the last team standing, we also gotta be the healthiest team standing."