Lakers coaches start live scouting, keep an eye ahead for playoff opponent

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Hours before the rest of the Lakers arrived at The Arena at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex, Miles Simon sat in a chair, taking notes.

He was watching the Oklahoma City Thunder blow out the Utah Jazz, the upcoming opponent of the Lakers on Monday, scouting for schemes and play calls in the fan-less environment in the NBA bubble. And it’s one way the Lakers’ preparation has changed with all games an easy 10-minute ride away: Bench coaches can now see their foes live.

It’s an extra task for the Lakers, who are without advance scout Greg St. Jean in the bubble. The scouting team on the outside is working on playoff opponents, Frank Vogel said, but having some live coaches present can help pick up what’s changed since the hiatus.

“We do some scouting to pick up any new looks or anything like that,” Vogel said. “Miles Simon did come to the game today to do some scouting and that was a new experience for him.”

The coaching staff is doing its best to not look too far ahead, even though it is nearly assured they’ll be in the 1-8 seed matchup when the playoffs begin later this month. Frank Vogel said he didn’t scout any games live, but did have a chance to watch the wall-to-wall games on Friday after the Lakers cancelled practice. Two of the games in the bubble went to overtime.

“There were definitely some compelling matchups across the board yesterday, right?” he said. “Portland and Memphis, the Celtics-Milwaukee game was great, Houston-Dallas game was great. It was a little bit like March Madness. I couldn’t turn the TV off.”

The West is particularly competitive, as only five games separates the eighth-place and 13-place teams in the bubble, with the Trail Blazers, Spurs, Kings and Pelicans all within four games, which could trigger a play-in game. Those teams are also loathe to look too far ahead.

The Grizzlies, for example, won their last battle with the Lakers in Memphis thanks to a strong performance by rookie Ja Morant. But after losing an overtime thriller to Portland on Friday, Memphis coach Taylor Jenkins said he couldn’t let his players put the cart before the horse.

“Obviously if we were fortunate enough to be the eighth seed and play the Lakers, it’d be a great test for these guys,” Jenkins said. “But I think the best thing for these guys, in order to get prepared for one of the best teams in the league if that were our opportunity, is that we’ve got a tough schedule coming up … So if we focus on that, I think that’s gonna continue to build confidence in our guys.”

Lakers may keep playing regular minutes after clinching

Closing in on No. 1 doesn’t necessarily change how the Lakers’ rotations will look for the six remaining seeding games, Vogel said. While in a normal year, the Lakers might play more conservative with their stars and starters. But with two choppy games in the tank, the Lakers are still looking for playoff-level cohesion and conditioning.

“We’ve got eight games to make sure that our guys are back used to playing big minutes in regular games and the next guys are integrated at the right pace,” Vogel said. “We get to get enough time to look at combinations and certain lineups. That’s really the only goal of these games is to play around with those things and be as sharp as possible going into the playoffs.”

Two of the biggest goals will be getting Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Alex Caruso accustomed to larger roles of 20-plus minutes. Vogel also said he’s looking for more time for J.R. Smith and Markieff Morris, who played just a combined 10 minutes in the opener.

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