LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Lakers claimed a 2-1 series lead on the Phoenix Suns in the opening-round of these playoffs, and their dominance over the last two games is becoming awfully familiar to the postseason run they displayed in the bubble.
Anthony Davis was the catalyst for the second straight game, producing a game-high 34 points and 11 rebounds to usher a 109-95 win at Staples Center on Thursday night. LeBron James recorded 21 points, six rebounds and nine assists.
Viewed as a vulnerable opponent entering the playoffs due to lengthy injuries to James (ankle) and Davis (calf) and Dennis Schröder enduring a late-season bout in the league’s health and safety protocols, things now appear to be turning to normal on and off the court at the right time for the defending champs.
With the Lakers having reached the 85% COVID-19 vaccine threshold on Monday — which allows for lesser restrictions — they were finally able to utilize their film room for the first time this season on Wednesday and they didn’t have to wear face masks, league sources told Yahoo Sports.
Prior to attaining the threshold, film studies were conducted on the practice court with masked-up players and coaches spread out across the facility and doors were left open for ventilation.
Multiple Lakers players told Yahoo Sports that Wednesday’s session felt “normal” again.
“You don’t realize how important and productive it is to have film sessions in an intimate setting until you lose it,” one Lakers player told Yahoo Sports. “When guys are together in close proximity, you’re much more engaged, and especially when you don’t have to wear a mask.”
Their first taste of normalcy actually began after the Game 2 win in Phoenix on Tuesday.
On short flights, teams were not allowed to bring food on the plane from outside restaurant vendors if the team hadn’t reached the 85% vaccine threshold.
After tying the series, Lakers veteran forward Jared Dudley told Yahoo Sports that the team celebrated on the plane with a winner’s feast prepared by Fleming’s Steakhouse.
“It was by far the best postgame meal of the season,” Dudley told Yahoo Sports. “It had us all in a good mood.”
This series has been compelling and the reintroduction of fans into the arenas has intensified the atmospheres.
Timberwolves get playoff experience through Lakers-Suns
The Minnesota Timberwolves are using this series as educational experience.
The Timberwolves, who finished 23-49 on the season, brought star guard D'Angelo Russell and Jaylen Nowell to Game 1 of the Lakers-Suns series to show them what it’s like to play among a hectic playoff domain, league sources told Yahoo Sports.
The plan is to continue sending its players to big playoff games to gain perspective on what it takes to play at this high of a level, sources say.
As for the Lakers, they hope to continue playing at a high level to become only the 11 seventh- or eighth-seed to take down a No. 1 or No. 2 seed since the NBA structured an eight-team-per-conference playoff format in 1984.
“We’re finding our groove,” Davis said during his postgame Zoom session. “We’re finding it at the right time.”
Game 4 is Sunday in Los Angeles.
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