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Vegas Summer League: Lakers struggle, stay hopeful for title

Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma captured the attention of Lakers fans two years ago at the Vegas Summer League, both for those who live in Southern Nevada and those who made the drive from the Los Angeles area.

Last year, it was Josh Hart who stood out.

The Lakers made the Summer League finals both years — winning it in 2017 — with players who looked to be integral parts of their main club.

This year?

The two most likely candidates to make the Lakers — Talen Horton-Tucker and Zach Norvell Jr. — are injured. Horton-Tucker is out for the Summer League because of an injured right foot. Norvell didn’t play in Saturday’s 93-87 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers at the Thomas & Mack Center because of a lower-back injury. His status is more uncertain.

“We’d like to have (Norvell) back,” Lakers Summer League coach Miles Simon said. “We miss his 3-point shooting, his toughness. His defense for a rookie so far has been really, really good. He’s picked things up very quickly, so hopefully we’ll have him back Monday night.”

The players who are available are making their cases to help fill out a roster around cornerstones LeBron James and newly acquired Anthony Davis.

The Lakers didn’t play on Sunday, getting a rare day off. They had played five games in six days, including going 2-1 in the California Classic in Sacramento. The Lakers are 0-2 so far in Las Vegas, the effects of the grind taking a noticeable toll.

“I think the hardest thing is just trying to get started,” Lakers guard Codi Miller-McIntyre said. “I think we do a great job after the first five minutes. I think that’s the most difficult thing we’re struggling with, but I also love how hard we fight to win games.”

Los Angeles doesn’t get much of a break. The Lakers return to the Thomas & Mack to play the Golden State Warriors at 8:30 p.m. Monday.

Both organizations figure to have a lot to say about which team wins next season’s NBA title.

The Warriors have been dynastic, but figure to take a step back after losing Kevin Durant in free agency to the Brooklyn Nets and Klay Thompson for extended time to a torn ACL suffered in the NBA Finals against the champion Toronto Raptors.

The title could go through Los Angeles, but which L.A. team is the question.

Reigning Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard chose the Clippers over the Lakers and Raptors. That decision means a more wide-open NBA title race than in recent memory. Had Leonard chosen the Lakers, they would have been the prohibitive favorites.

After Leonard chose the other team that occupies Staples Center, the Lakers moved on and landed DeMarcus Cousins and Danny Green, among others.

They sent the message they weren’t planning to go away.

“Especially the crew, the coaching staff, that’s been on the road since (the previous) Sunday, we were obviously on free agency/Kawhi watch,” Simon said. “I don’t do the notifications on my phone. I just go right back on my app — refresh, refresh. It was probably too much, and I probably needed to put my phone down and turn it off. But (Saturday) was great with the signings and the roster that we’re putting together. It makes me excited, and I’m looking forward to the season.”

Contact Mark Anderson at manderson@reviewjournal.com. Follow @markanderson65 on Twitter.

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