The Los Angeles Lakers returned to Staples Center on Friday for their first preseason game of the 2020-21 season and there was nobody there to see it.
The Lakers last played at Staples Center on March 10th, in a 102-104 loss to the Brooklyn Nets. Less than 24 hours later, the NBA was suspended after a player tested positive for COVID-19.
The league resumed play at the end of July inside a "bubble environment" at the Walt Disney World resort in Orlando, Florida. Three months later, the Lakers were the last team left standing after defeating the Miami Heat 4-2 to win their 17th NBA title.
Ordinarily, there would be nearly 20,000 fans to greet world champion Lakers and celebrate their first title since 2010. However, in the midst of the pandemic, and with cases surging across the country, especially in Los Angeles County, the Lakers returned home to an empty arena instead.
“It’s different, for sure,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said before the game about the empty arena.
Sophomore guard Talen Horton-Tucker led the Lakers with 19 points, and Kyle Kuzma chipped in 18, as the Lakers cruised past their co-tenants, the Clippers, 87-81. LeBron James and Anthony Davis did not play in the game.
Forward Montrezl Harrell made his Lakers' debut after playing the last four seasons with the Clippers. Harrell had a double-double with 13 points and 12 rebounds against his former team.
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Point guard Dennis Schroder, who was acquired by the Lakers in the offseason in a three-team trade with the Oklahoma City Thunder and Philadelphia 76ers, scored 10 points in his debut.
Fresh off signing a new four-year, $190 million extension with the Clippers, Paul George had 10 points, and running mate Kawhi Leonard scored just three in 14 short minutes.
Both teams struggled offensively, showing noticeable signs of rust while each shooting just 35 percent from the field.
The NBA preseason opened Friday with five games across the country and seven more are scheduled for Saturday. The Lakers-Clippers contest inside Staples Center marked Tyronn Lue's Clippers' debut as their new head coach.
Wes Matthews Jr. made his Lakers debut, and Marc Gasol did not play in the contest.
The Lakers will take the court against the Clippers again on Sunday at 5:30 PM PT.