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Lakers vs. Pistons Preview: Can L.A. handle start of deadline drama better than last season?

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Trade rumors were the start of the end of the last Lakers season. While that probably won’t happen again this year given how much better and more talented the team is, they’ll need to avoid slippage related to the start of rumor season.

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Los Angeles Lakers v Utah Jazz Photo by Garrett Ellwood/NBAE via Getty Images

If the calendar didn’t make it obvious enough that the Feb. 6 NBA trade deadline is fast approaching, the last few days have made it plain. Between the multiple reports about the Los Angeles Lakers getting and listening to trade offers about Kyle Kuzma, and the report that the team might be looking to bring in Darren Collison, we’ve officially started to get our first rumors of roster turnover, and the Lakers will have to handle such whispers better than they did last year.

To be as fair as possible, the Lakers were also injured and a much younger team while dealing with the Anthony Davis trade rumors last season. Things are different this year, as Davis is here now, it appears much less of the team is in danger of immediate relocation, James isn’t dealing with the most serious injury of his career, and the Lakers have a lot more veterans to keep the locker room even-keeled, as well as a coaching staff that isn’t full of lame ducks.

Additionally, Kuzma has said that the trade rumors don’t phase him anymore because he’s used to them, and Collison would likely be coming in to play over guys that aren’t getting a ton of minutes anyway (at least at first, because it would be shocking to see Rondo get significantly demoted due to how close he is to James and Davis).

But all that noted, the Lakers still have to make sure that they stay locked in as these rumors continue to percolate, because this noise is only going to get louder as the deadline draws closer. This Lakers team has a real shot at the title, and even if they don’t make any moves, they would be negligent not to at least look around and see if there is anything they can do to bolster their odds of winning it all. That’s just going to mean there will be rumors, leaks and speculation about their intentions, and this locker room is going to have to band together and play through it better than last year’s team did if they want to keep rolling.

I suppose, five paragraphs in, we should at least reference the Lakers’ opponent today, even if the Pistons (13-23) are not particularly interesting as a basketball team. They have the 13th-best offense in the league, according to NBA.com, but the seventh-worst defense, allowing 111.8 points per 100 possessions. Bruce Brown has been fun to watch grow, but Blake Griffin and Markieff Morris missed their game yesterday against the Golden State Warriors, and as a result it would seem unlikely they play today on the second night of a road back-to-back.

Derrick Rose led the way as the Pistons won that game against the depleted Dubs, while Andre Drummond played well amidst trade rumors, so Detroit likely won’t totally roll over for the Lakers. Even if they aren’t good, if the Lakers don’t take them seriously, they have enough firepower to win a weird Sunday game if they still have legs while playing the second night in a row.

But make no mistake, the Lakers’ more pressing opposition will be avoiding the slumps that can follow trade rumors, as well as just the general malaise that can set in for a 28-7 team that is sitting atop the Western Conference with a four-game lead on their next closest opponent. If L.A. wants to increase that lead and extend their latest win streak to five games, they’ll have to remain focused amidst all of this.

Luckily for them, James, Davis and the culture of accountability that Frank Vogel and the front office built this season have done a good job of making sure that happens so far. Until there are obvious signs that is changing, it’s probably safe to trust all the adults in the room for now.

Notes and Updates

  • The Lakers’ status report is the same as last game heading in, with Alex Caruso (right calf tightness) listed as questionable to play, while Anthony Davis (right shoulder soreness) is probable to give it a go. Caruso missed last game after being forced to leave the prior one when his pre-existing calf issue flared up.
  • Speaking of Davis, he issued an early season challenge to his team to throw the ball just about anywhere near the rim and he could finish the play. So far, he admits they’re testing him, but he’s also been able to make even their lowlight passes into highlights for the Lakers. Davis, LeBron James, Danny Green and Frank Vogel all shared their thoughts on Davis’ incredible lob skill, and why the Lakers need to be sure they don’t overuse it.
  • I also wrote about LeBron’s thoughts on critics of the AD trade, and why Rondo returned to the Lakers in free agency, and broke down what I think it all means.

The Lakers will tip off against the Pistons at 7:00 p.m. PST today, and the game will be televised on Spectrum SportsNet.

For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.