LeBron James wasn’t on the court Monday for the Los Angeles Lakers final scrimmage, but he wasn’t needed, as veteran guards JR Smith and Dion Waiters led the way for the purple and gold against a young Washington Wizards team.
Smith scored 20 points on 6-9 shooting in 25 minutes off the bench, hitting six of his seven 3-pointers. Waiters netted 18 points, six assists and three rebounds, taking over the final moments of the game with some creative ball-handling and shot-making. He scored seven of the final nine points for LA, securing a 123-116 victory. In short, the final tune-up provided some vintage moments for the two newest Lakers and generated some optimism heading into the games that count.
Their play also earned them a shoutout from James, who was keeping a close eye on the two from the bench. “Swishaaaa & Cheese,” James wrote on Instagram, referencing the nicknames of Smith and Waiters.
Dion Waiters, JR Smith Happy to be Back in Action
Smith has long gone by the Swish nickname, while Waiters is touting his Cheese nickname with pride. Waiters said earlier in the week he doesn’t mind going by Philly Cheese or even Bubble Cheese, given the situation. If he keeps playing the way he has, LeBron might even dub him GOAT Cheese.
“The vibe, man,” Waiters said. “The vibe like that, that camaraderie, the guys cheering you on, calling your name, ‘Philly Cheese,’ ‘Say Cheese,’ when you make a shot. There’s a little bit of everything. They’ve been great since I got here, ever since I got here, just been great, they welcome you with open arms. So, I really can’t complain. I am really thankful to be honest, to have a group of guys like that just to support me. I’m happy.”
Smith had a similar sentiment shortly after signing, admitting he went into a depression after feeling like his career was over. But now back on an NBA court — albeit an unusual one — Smith is ready to contribute in any way possible.
“Bring the energy, play defense as hard as I can, get to my spots, shoot when I’m open, create for my teammates,” Smith said during a spot on Spectrum Sportsnet. “If I’ve got two (defenders) in front of me, somebody’s open. But more than anything, I’m just trying to get the defense down because that’s how I’ll stay on the court. If I play defense they’ll keep me on the court longer, so that’s my main focus.”
Frank Vogel: Dion Waiters, JR Smith Make Case for Minutes
Lakers head coach Frank Vogel is getting his first real look at Smith and Waiters in the scrimmages. Waiters was signed just before the NBA hiatus, but never suited up for the Lakers. Smith was signed after Avery Bradley opted out of the restart. With Bradley out and Rajon Rondo sideline for six to eight weeks with a fractured thumb, there are nearly 45 minutes in the rotation up for grabs. After seeing them in action, Vogel appears to be rethinking just how much Smith and Waiters can contribute during what the Lakers hope is an extended playoff run.
— Spectrum SportsNet (@SpectrumSN) July 27, 2020
“We know they are talented. We need to shape their play to the way we want them to fall into their roles. Their roles are different,” Vogel said following the scrimmage on Monday. “We asked JR to be more aggressive in his catch-and-shoot offense and he was just that, knocking down six for seven. For Dion, being a very aggressive, touch the paint, try to get in the charge circle, making good reads — he did that as well. When the guys are coachable and they are trying to do what you ask them to do at a high level, they make a case for being in the playoff rotation. We think those guys will give us a big boost come playoff time.”
Sure, a scrimmage against a depleted Wizards is one thing and the playoffs are another. But Smith and Waiters are proving worthy of their rosters spots and the gamble to sign the two mercurial guards could pay off big in the long run.