Sports: War­riors take on LeBron and the Lak­ers.

Ve­gas ex­hi­bi­tion puts James, War­riors through test run of new ri­valry

The Mercury News - - Front Page - By Mark Me­d­ina mme­d­ina@ ba­yare­anews­group.com

LAS VE­GAS >> Just as he did in Game 3 of the 2017 and 2018 NBA Fi­nals, Kevin Du­rant nailed a 3-pointer over LeBron James.

The con­text was dif­fer­ent though. It was not a dag­ger shot. It also took place dur­ing a pre­sea­son game. Hence, James shot down any com­par­isons be­tween the War­riors-Cava­liers NBA Fi­nals matchups in the past four years, and Wed­nes­day’s pre­sea­son game be­tween the War­riors and Los An­ge­les Lak­ers at T-Mo­bile Arena won by the Lak­ers 123-113.

“It’s ex­actly the same,” James sar­cas­ti­cally. “Pre­sea­son games vs. The Fi­nals — it’s ex­actly the same.”

It was not ex­actly the same. But it had the same cast of char­ac­ters with the War­riors’ Du­rant, Stephen Curry and Klay Thompson against the Lak­ers’ James. Curry made 3-point­ers as al­ways. Du­rant showed off his foot­work, spin moves jumpers and dunk­ing.

James showed off his ath­leti­cism and range. On one play, James con­verted on a re­verse layup af­ter War­riors for­ward Kevon Looney wrapped his arm around him. James then flexed his mus­cle. On an­other play, James drained a 34-foot shot be­fore the buzzer to close the first half. He stood still to soak in the mo­ment, just as Curry of­ten does.

Here’s the fi­nal reck­on­ing of the ma­jor play­ers, none of whom saw action in the fourth quar­ter.

Du­rant, whose night ended early as he fouled out in the third quar­ter, had 18points on 8-of-14

shoot­ing and 12re­bounds. Curry popped in 23 points with five as­sists, two steals and five turnovers in 26 min­utes, and Thompson

added 20 points on 8-of-18 shoot­ing and 4-of-9 from 3-point range, with five re­bounds and three as­sists in 27 min­utes.

For the Lak­ers, Bran­don In­gram had the hot hand with 26 points on 5-of-13 shoot­ing and 15-of17 from the free-throw line in 26 min­utes, while James scored 15 points on 5-of-8 shoot­ing, grabbed 10 re­bounds and five as­sists in 18 min­utes.

The War­riors and Lak­ers played with the kind of in­ten­sity usu­ally re­served for play­offs. But don’t tell James the War­riors and Lak­ers have a ri­valry af­ter he signed with them last sum­mer as a free agent.

“What’s the ri­valry,” James asked rhetor­i­cally. “I know noth­ing about it.”

Some on the War­riors re­spect­fully dis­agree. Af­ter grow­ing up a Lak­ers fan, War­riors coach Steve Kerr ar­gued “it’s great for the league to see LeBron in a Lak­ers uni­form.”

“It ramps up just be­cause there’s a ri­valry be­tween NorCal and SoCal,” Thompson said. “There’s tal­ent on both teams. But I don’t think it’ll be the level of us and the Cavs just be­cause we played at the high­est level for four straight years.”

The War­riors and Lak­ers at least of­fered a sneak pre­view of the pos­si­bil­i­ties.

• An­other pre­sea­son game usu­ally means one thing. An­other lineup change. With Dray­mond Green miss­ing his third con­sec­u­tive ex­hi­bi­tion with a sore left knee, Kerr started se­cond-year for­ward Jor­dan Bell at power for­ward.

The War­riors have carved out a larger role for Bell, but Kerr noted he has “been up and down a lit­tle bit.”

“Jor­dan some­times try to re­lies on his ath­leti­cism,” Kerr said. “We’re try­ing to get him to be in the right spot ev­ery time.”

Still, Kerr said he re­mains “very happy” with Bell’s progress on his de­fen­sive ro­ta­tions, pass­ing

and shoot­ing. He de­voted his off­sea­son to­ward im­prov­ing his mid-range shot, some­thing that Kerr en­dorses to a de­gree.

“You know how we op­er­ate on this team. Go ahead and shoot if you’re open,” Kerr said. “But if Steph, KD or Klay have a bet­ter one, make sure you throw it to them.”

A pretty novel con­cept. “It took months and months of re­search to fig­ure that out,” Kerr joked.

• It ap­pears plau­si­ble the War­riors could go through their en­tire train­ing camp with­out any res­o­lu­tion with Pa­trick McCaw’s free agency. Yet, War­riors gen­eral man­ager Bob My­ers told this pub­li­ca­tion the team has not wa­vered in its hopes to re-sign the wing.

“I’ll up­date you if there’s any­thing new,” My­ers said.

The War­riors plan to fi­nal­ize their reg­u­lar-sea­son ros­ter on Satur­day af­ter hud­dling up fol­low­ing the team’s ex­hi­bi­tion fi­nale against the Los An­ge­les Lak­ers in San Jose. With My­ers con­sid­er­ing “flex­i­bil­ity” and “po­si­tional need” as de­ter­min­ing fac­tors in the team’s pend­ing ros­ter con­struc­tion, train­ing camp in­vi­tees Danuel House Jr. or Al­fonzo McKin­nie ap­pear fa­vored to stay be­cause of McCaw’s ab­sence.

My­ers stressed, how­ever, there could be a sce­nario the War­riors re-sign McCaw even if they do not

agree to a deal be­fore Satur­day.

The War­riors cur­rently have 19 play­ers on their ros­ter and plan to trim it to 14 so they have one va­cant ros­ter spot to main­tain fi­nan­cial flex­i­bil­ity. My­ers pointed out the team also has flex­i­bil­ity on var­i­ous ros­ter con­sid­er­a­tions un­til Jan­uary.

Non-guar­an­teed con­tracts be­come guar­an­teed on Jan. 10, al­low­ing teams to waive play­ers signed to those deals be­fore­hand with­out any fi­nan­cial con­se­quence. Be­gin­ning on Jan. 5, NBA teams can sign play­ers on 10-day con­tracts. And un­til Jan. 15, NBA teams can sign play­ers to two-way deals, which would al­low them to spend up 45 days with the NBA and the rest of the time with its G-League team.

In other words, the War­riors may be will­ing to re­sign McCaw af­ter the cal­en­dar year.

“It’s all fluid,” My­ers said be­fore re­fer­ring to the var­i­ous dead­lines in Jan­uary. “I wouldn’t put any hard dead­line on that.”

• It re­mains un­de­ter­mined when DeMar­cus Cousins can ad­vance to on­court drills

De­spite his on­go­ing progress with his re­hab from a left Achilles ten­don that has side­lined him since late Jan­uary, the War­riors do not yet know when he will par­tic­i­pate in con­tact drills.

“We’re lit­er­ally tak­ing it week-by-week, but he’s ramp­ing up con­di­tion­ing as­pect of it,” Kerr said. That’s a good sign.”

Thus far, Cousins has ad­vanced to non-con­tact drills as well as soft con­tact in games of two-of-two and three-on-three. Cousins has also com­pleted full­court non-con­tact drills to ac­cel­er­ate his con­di­tion­ing.

“It’s tough enough for any­body to come back from a nine- to 10-month in­jury, but es­pe­cially a big guy that car­ries a lot of size and weight,” Kerr said of the 6-foot-11, 270-pound Cousins. “It’s tough to get that con­di­tion­ing and move­ment back. He’s spend­ing a lot of time on that.”

LeBron James is sur­rounded by Kevin Du­rant, left, and An­dre Iguo­dala in his first game against the War­riors as a Laker.

Kevin Du­rant works against the Lak­ers’ Josh Hart dur­ing Wed­nes­day’s ex­hi­bi­tion in Las Ve­gas.

Stephen Curry flips up a shot over for­mer team­mate JaVale McGee, now play­ing for the Lak­ers.

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