The Lakers’ preseason finale might raise more questions than it answers in the wake of a few key absences and adjustments.
Neither Anthony Davis nor Dennis Schröder traveled to Sacramento for Friday night’s tilt with the Kings, the team confirmed, taking both out of the starting lineup mix.
Davis’ absence from the trip is precautionary: The All-Star big man has dealt with lower back tightness throughout training camp and missed a scheduled start against the Phoenix Suns due to an abundance of caution. Multiple Lakers officials have cited Davis’ health as key to the season: He’s played in just 76 of 154 possible regular-season games over the past two years.
A team official said Schröder was still being evaluated as of midday Friday for a finger injury suffered Wednesday in his preseason debut against Minnesota. ESPN reported the German guard would “likely” miss some time in the regular season. He had already reported later to camp due to a visa issue.
Still, there should be plenty of fodder for discussion based on one planned lineup tweak: A source confirmed to SCNG that Russell Westbrook is coming off the bench for the Lakers against the Kings, the first time the 33-year-old will be a reserve since his rookie season. The Lakers are juggling a roster heavy on smaller guards, including Patrick Beverley, Kendrick Nunn and Schröder.
While Coach Darvin Ham said on media day that, “we have a variety of options to fill in our backcourt,” he has largely supported Westbrook as a starter since training camp began. Westbrook has averaged 7.3 points, 3.3 assists and 3.7 rebounds in three preseason appearances.
Ham has said he expects Westbrook to improve his defense and off-ball action more this season.
“The opportunities aren’t always going to come with the ball in your hands,” Ham said Wednesday. “In terms of Russ, there’s running lanes, there are guys that are willing passers that are going to find him. We just have to commit to our running habits, to our spacing. He can find himself in the corner, he can find himself in the dunker, he can find himself pushing and leading the break.”
Schröder’s absence, however, may serve to improve Westbrook’s chances to play a significant early role. The Lakers have experimented extensively with small lineups, and Ham suggested that it’s an appealing group, even though they struggled Wednesday against Minnesota.
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Ham also said after Thursday’s practice that he intends to name a starting lineup for Tuesday’s opener against Golden State that can be maintained throughout the year.
“I wouldn’t flip,” he said. “We get to the playoffs, sometimes lineups change from series to series, but through the course of the regular season, whoever we pick to start us off, that’s going to be our starters.”