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Lakers have critical lineup decisions when facing West’s elite backcourts

first_img AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREUCLA alum Kenny Clark signs four-year contract extension with PackersIt requires special consideration from the Lakers, who by contrast boast their best players in the frontcourt. Especially when James is the primary ball-handler, as he was in the starting lineup against the Clippers in Tuesday’s season opener, the Lakers will rely on their guards to pick up tough defensive assignments.Alongside Danny Green, Avery Bradley, as an on-ball defender, seems to fit that particular bill as long as he’s healthy. Bradley said Wednesday he would relish the opportunity to finally try to mark Conley, who he played with at the end of last season in Memphis.“I tried to (defend him in practice), but he always wanted me on his team,” he said. “He’s a very good player, man.”Adding to the thought process is the impending return of veteran Rajon Rondo, who was a full participant in Thursday’s five-on-five scrimmages. Vogel thought Rondo, who has been dealing with calf soreness since midway through the preseason, looked “fresher than everyone else” after sitting out the opener. But he added the medical staff would determine if Rondo can return to the lineup on Friday against the Jazz once he feels how a full-tempo practice affects his body.Rondo, 33, could make starts as the team’s point guard once he’s healthy, Vogel said. Lakers practice early hoping to answer all questions How athletes protesting the national anthem has evolved over 17 years Trail Blazers, Grizzlies advance to NBA play-in game; Suns, Spurs see playoff dreams dashed Lakers, Clippers schedules set for first round of NBA playoffs Trail Blazers beat Grizzlies in play-in, earn first-round series with the Lakers center_img “I’ve given it a lot of thought and I think he’ll be in the starting lineup a lot. There’s potentially two ways we can go with that position, sometimes bringing Avery off the bench, sometimes bringing Rajon off the bench in terms of that position,” he said. “And a lot of it can be dictated by matchups and the free flow of the team and stuff like that, but I definitely envision a lot of games where he’ll be the starting point guard.”Rondo is a divisive player among fans to say the least. While he made 29 starts last season as the second-leading assist man for the Lakers (8.0 apg), he also struggled, particularly on defense. The Lakers’ defensive rating improved from 113.3 points allowed per 100 possessions when he was on the court to 105.4 when he was off it. He also had a negative net rating (minus-5.4) in the roughly 605 minutes he shared with James.Often cited by coaches as one of the league’s sharpest minds, Rondo seemed to indirectly reference his statistics with James without explicitly acknowledging that he had seen them.“The league is big on analytics now so I don’t know what the statistics are when LeBron and I are on the court at the same time, but that’s last year’s stats,” he said. “This year is obviously a different team, different feel. So we’ll see how it goes. You can’t predetermine anything. You got to see how the game flows and go from there.”Vogel has talked up Rondo’s game for weeks, saying during training camp that he believed Rondo could also be an off-ball shooting threat after hitting about 36 percent from 3-point range last season. He added Thursday that “I’ve always wanted to coach him specifically, but I’ve always asked for guys like him.” Tuesday’s loss to the Clippers also showcased some shortcomings among the Lakers’ playmakers after James, as the team had just 20 assists, and many players felt the ball was stagnant at points in the game.Related Articles Viewing from the sideline, Rondo said he believed he could help the team with its ball movement from side-to-side in half-court sets, but also improve the fast break. The Lakers had just five transition points (none in the first half) against the Clippers.Rondo said he’ll be open to starting or coming off the bench: “My preference is what Coach Vogel wants me to do. … I’ll be cool with that.”Still, the defensive needs of the Lakers could drive those decisions, and not just at point guard. Vogel also said center JaVale McGee, who started Tuesday, could be swapped out for Dwight Howard among the starters depending on the game or particular matchups.Rondo, like Bradley, is a former All-Defensive selection, but he last earned those honors in 2013. Vogel suggested that he might look at different tools for different nights around his stars.“Every time we prepare for a team, what lineups they’re bringing into our building or this matchup that will be a consideration in terms of who to start,” he said. “And especially early on in this season while we’re still learning about ourselves, haven’t locked into a full-time starting lineup, and the matchups for that night’s game will be a factor.” Newsroom GuidelinesNews TipsContact UsReport an Error EL SEGUNDO — LeBron James has seen the stat line from Mike Conley’s Utah Jazz debut: 1 for 16 from the field.Now, James is on high alert. He called it “the worst thing that could’ve happened” for the Lakers, who will have to guard both Conley and Donovan Mitchell (who scored 32 points) because he’s not buying that Conley will be buried in a shooting slump for long.“He missed I think eight of his right-hand floaters, which has been money for his whole career,” he said. “So I didn’t analyze that too much.”Conley and Mitchell, who averaged a combined 45 points per game last season, will visit Staples Center on Friday night as the first of many high-scoring guard duos the Lakers must figure out how to slow down this season.Think about the Western Conference for a moment, which is defined, in part, by high-powered guard tandems. Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum (46.8 combined ppg last season) in Portland; Steph Curry and D’Angelo Russell in Golden State (48.4 ppg); and a new Houston duo of former MVPs in James Harden and Russell Westbrook (59 ppg). Even on nights when they aren’t facing top-of-the-shelf gunning guards, the Lakers will have to deal with the likes of Sacramento (De’Aaron Fox and Buddy Hield), New Orleans (Jrue Holiday and J.J. Reddick) and Denver (Jamal Murray and Gary Harris), all of whom can put up points from the backcourt.last_img read more