LOS ANGELES • After the shortest off-season in league history, the Los Angeles Lakers will open the defence of their National Basketball Association (NBA) title by hosting the Los Angeles Clippers this morning (Singapore time).
"It's been a different training camp, to say the least, but for the time we've had, which hasn't been that much, I feel like we've put in the work and gotten better," said Finals Most Valuable Player (MVP) LeBron James, who along with the rest of his teammates will collect their championship rings before the match-up.
"Obviously, we're not where we want to be long-term but that's absolutely okay because it's a long season, it's a long journey. But to the credit of the guys, we've gotten better as the days have gone on."
Many feel the Lakers, who went 4-0 in pre-season, improved during the off-season with the additions of reigning Sixth Man of the Year and former Clippers big man Montrezl Harrell, the Sixth Man runner-up and German guard Dennis Schroder, veteran centre Marc Gasol and guard Wesley Matthews.
The revamped supporting cast will complement the All-Star duo of James and Anthony Davis.
James, who won his fourth NBA title on Oct 11 when the Lakers beat the Miami Heat in six games, averaged 25.3 points, 7.8 rebounds and a league-high 10.2 assists per game during the 2019-20 regular season.
Davis averaged a team-high 26.1 points with 9.3 boards, finishing third in the league in blocks at 2.3 per game.
The Clippers, who went 0-3 in pre-season, including a pair of losses to the Lakers, are anxious to put last season's crushing play-off debacle behind them.
Blowing a 3-1 series lead against the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference semi-finals, ruining the chance of a showdown with the Lakers, cost head coach Doc Rivers his job.
Former assistant Tyronn Lue has replaced him and he will have to get last year's Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard and fellow All-Star Paul George working better in tandem.
Leonard scored a team-high 27.1 points and grabbed 7.1 rebounds per game during the regular season. George, who averaged 21.5 and 5.7 rebounds in the regular season but experienced an inconsistent postseason, seems more motivated by last season's disappointing finish.
2-2 There was little between the Lakers and Clippers last season, with both defeating their city rivals twice in the regular season.
"December 22 won't be the test of defining who we are and where we're at playing the Lakers on their opening ring ceremony," the forward told the Los Angeles Times.
"It'll be a great ceremony for them. But it's the start of what we're trying to do, and that's the only thing we got to look at is the start of the marathon and the race that we're running for this year.
"So, we have enough motivation going into this season regardless if we started this season off with someone else or the Lakers."
Marcus Morris Sr, Patrick Beverley, Lou Williams and Ivica Zubac are again expected to be key contributors, and the expectations are the same for Serge Ibaka, who the Clippers signed as a free agent to fill the void left by Harrell.
The big man added 15.4 points and 8.2 rebounds per game last season with last year's champions Toronto Raptors, while newcomers Nicolas Batum and Luke Kennard will also be relied upon for production.
REUTERS TV TIMES