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Speed, Defense and Excitement: 3 takeaways from the Lakers’ first training camp practice

Following the first practice of the season, Anthony Davis, Russell Westbrook and Lakers head coach Frank Vogel spoke to the media.

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NBA: Los Angeles Lakers-Media Day Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

After a busy media day on Tuesday, the Lakers officially opened up training camp for the 2021-22 season with their first practice on Wednesday. Following the session, Russell Westbrook, Anthony Davis and Frank Vogel all spoke to the media.

Here’s a look at the three biggest takeaways from Wednesday’s post-practice presser.

First practice excitement

Both Westbrook and Davis came into their joint interview session bouncing with excitement, though also admittedly tired, following practice, a not entirely uncommon sign early in the season, but still, a notable one.

“It was good,” Westbrook said of practice. “Good energy. We’re figuring things out trying to find ways to, obviously, be effective this first day. But it was a good day. Get some time to rest before coming back for the second one.”

While Wednesday morning was the first and only practice the Lakers had so far, Westbrook could have been fooled into thinking it was more.

“We only had one? Shit, it felt like two,” Westbrook sighed when sitting down to chat with the assembled reporters in the building.

Davis, who spent roughly half of last season sidelined with injury after a shortened offseason, also noted that he can tell how different — and better — his body feels after a normal offseason leading into training camp this year.

“Oh yeah for sure,” Davis said. “Not just me. I think all of us. All of us feel great. We feel good. We’re flying up and down the floor, where we kind of took it slow last year because we had that short offseason. But me personally, I feel great, body feels great. I’m ready to go.”

Not shockingly, Vogel would not divulge his starting lineup in practice, going only as far as to say the team’s Big Three of Westbrook, Davis and LeBron James were together in the group.

“We had those three guys on the same team for a stretch and the other two guys rotated throughout practice,” Vogel said. “There were a lot of different combinations that we looked at, and we will continue to change that up from practice to practice. No revelations, sorry.”

Westbrook finally hits the floor

The most notable aspect of the Lakers’ first practice was that it was the first time Westbrook had taken the floor in any kind of official capacity for the Lakers. After weeks and months of envisioning how things would play out, Westbrook left his first practice ready to keep building.

“I see a lot more now,” Westbrook said. “A lot more things that we can do with each other and just so many different options and we’re gonna figure it out. I just can’t wait to get on the floor when the season starts with these guys and just have fun. Ultimately, that’s the ultimate goal when you play this game. A lot of times people get caught up in all the hoopla and everything else and forget to have fun, and the ultimate goal is to have fun with each other and create a brotherhood and win a championship.”

Similarly for Vogel, even after months of anticipating how Westbrook would look on the court, he was still a little surprised by how it all unfolded.

“It’s noticeable how different the speed looks a) in front of you in practice live and b) on your side,” Vogel said with a laugh. “It’s really exciting... He’s just a blur out there with his open court speed, and even halfcourt downhill speed. It’s something that we’re really excited about. His first practice he was basically a paint-to-great factory. He was just getting in the paint and finding people for lobs or for threes all practice long, and it was something that was very encouraging.”

Even after just one practice, though, Westbrook has already begun challenging himself to help make his teammates better this season, particularly alongside Davis in the pick and roll.

“He’s the ultimate weapon,” Westbrook said of Davis. “You got the ultimate weapon and it’s my job is to utilize it to the best of my ability (and) to make sure that AD, Bron, whoever’s in the pick and roll are put in positions to be successful. That’s a part of my job

“We had many conversations today about passing up open shots and looks,” Westbrook continued. “Different ways where we can make the game easy for each other. With that comes sacrifice and figuring out the best solution for the team.”

Defense still remains the focus

As much offensive talk as there was leading up to Wednesday’s first practice, defense still remained the focus of the Lakers. While the team saw multiple talented defenders walk out the door during free agency, Davis was still optimistic that the team wouldn’t lose a step on that end of the court, singling out numerous players, from the team’s Big Three to returnees Rajon Rondo, Dwight Howard and Talen Horton-Tucker to new faces like Kendrick Nunn, Kent Bazemore and DeAndre Jordan.

“We’ve got some defensive-minded guys and guys who want to play defense,” Davis said. “And it fits into our scheme that we’ve been doing in the past couple years, trying to be a defensive-minded team, being the No. 1 defensive in the league, and even though we lost those guys, we’ll get back to our ways. Even the guys that, over the years, have been known for struggling on defense, (will) buy into the system. Helping them, having their backs and come together as one on the defensive end. I think we can be a great defense.”

For Westbrook, having a player like Davis, one of the top defensive bigs in the league, on the court with him allows him to change how he approaches the game defensively.

“It’s a luxury,” Westbrook said. “I actually was talking about it today on just changing my mind, mentality, having those guys as a blanket in the back that you can always count on and I just do my job and make sure I get into the ball and defend to the best of my ability and I know those guys will have my back just like I have their’s.”

“It gives our guards more confidence to press the ball and knowing that we back there,” Davis immediately added. “So, the more we can, as bigs, kind of anchor the defense, it gives them enough confidence to go out there and smother the ball.”

By all accounts, it was an energetic, lively start to the preseason as the Lakers kicked off a season that is set to be one of the most memorable in recent years.

Notes and updates

  • The Lakers will return to practice on Wednesday evening for no-contact, full-speed work to implement their system.
  • Vogel discussed the Lakers’ plans for their six-game preseason, which includes a couple of games at full strength but plenty of rest for the roster as well.
  • Davis discussed some tangible examples of how the Lakers have sacrificed already in day one of the preseason.
  • The Lakers will practice again on Thursday morning before giving another update to the media afterwards.

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