Frank Vogel instructed the scoreboard operator to put 2 minutes on the clock and have the score read 99-96 in the reserves’ favor. It was time for the Los Angeles Lakers to test out their crunch-time lineup with LeBron James at the point and Anthony Davis at center on Day 5 of training camp Thursday.
At times it looked sloppy: James had several turnovers, including one in which he had his pocket picked in the backcourt by Danny Green.
At times it looked efficient: Davis was a ready recipient of touches at the high post that he converted into face-up jump shots.
At times it looked tried and true: James hit a deep pull-up 3 to tie things up with 6 seconds remaining.
All of it was a work in progress.
“I mean, we have so many different lineup packages that we can probably go to throughout the course of the season,” James said Thursday. “So we’re just trying out a few things now in practice — going with smaller lineups, going with bigger lineups, going with quicker lineups, going with slower lineups. But that’s the luxury of having our personnel, we have the ability to do multiple things. So, that’s what practice is all about, being able to work on those things.”
Besides using James at the 1 and Davis at the 5, Vogel used a closing lineup of Alex Caruso, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Avery Bradley with the first unit.
The bench group of Green, Rajon Rondo, Dwight Howard, Troy Daniels and Devontae Cacok (with the team on an Exhibit 10 contract) edged out the starters thanks to Rondo getting fouled by James and earning the win from the free throw line with less than a second remaining.
While James might have been the one directing the offense, he didn’t embrace being called a point guard.
“It doesn’t matter to me,” James said. “I do whatever it takes for us to win. So it doesn’t matter. I’m a ballplayer. I’m not a point guard, I’m not a shooting guard, a small forward, power forward or a center. I’m just a ballplayer. You put me on the floor, and I can make things happen with whoever is on the floor. So, I’m just looking forward to getting out there with my teammates because it’s exciting. It’s fun.”
Vogel also eschewed the label, saying that point has “been his role throughout his entire career,” even if he was in the lineup at small forward. He did, however, say he will look for times where James can be on the court without L.A.’s most accomplished point guard in Rondo.
“It’s going to be important that we stagger Rajon and LeBron,” Vogel said. “And let each of them have their turn running the show. Being the primary ball handler out there. And obviously, they’re going to play a ton together as well. But staggering those guys is on my mind as well.”
As James enters into his 17th season, Vogel is trusting his star to manage his role — to some extent — as he deems fit.
“He’s going to have the green light to defer at any point throughout the game and throughout the season, as he’s done again throughout his whole career, to be the primary playmaker,” Vogel said. “If he’s handled three or four straight times and is winded he can defer and give it to somebody else to bring it up. The great thing is we have wings who can initiate offense but we also play through Anthony Davis at the top, in terms of bringing it up and playing a five-out system. His skillset is so ridiculously versatile that we can play through him as well.”
As for Davis, just like James declared on media day last week, the Lakers repeatedly targeted him on offense as they played out the late-game situation Thursday, looking to let the big man shine.
“I mean, he’s Anthony Davis,” James said. “You get him the rock in his sweet spot and let him do the work.”