Lakers to play Denver in San Diego tonight
The Los Angeles Lakers will make their annual appearance in San Diego tonight when they face the Denver Nuggets in an exhibition game at the San Diego Sports Arena.
The Lakers have been scheduled to play an exhibition game in San Diego each year since 1999. The 2006 game was canceled because of the wildfires burning throughout San Diego County. The Lakers made a $100,000 donation to the American Red Cross to assist with relief efforts.
The Lakers exhibition in San Diego serves as a homecoming for forward Luke Walton, a University of San Diego High School graduate.
The Lakers are 6-3 in their San Diego exhibition games since 1999, including a 102-98 victory over the Charlotte Bobcats on Oct. 21, 2008.
Laker guard Derek Fisher called playing in San Diego “great.”
“Although the arena itself isn’t comparable other NBA arenas, I think there’s still a good energy in the building,” Fisher told CNS in an interview this week. “I think the fans still look forward to us coming there.
“I know there are a lot of military families who come to the game in San Diego and that’s something great about that particular game because those men and women who are serving our country can be entertained for a while. I’m glad we can be a part of something like that.”
The exhibition is the Lakers’ last before they begin regular-season play Tuesday against the Los Angeles Clippers. The Lakers are 6-1 in exhibition play, including a 106-89 victory over Denver Thursday in Anaheim. Denver is 3- 4.
The Lakers annually play exhibition games in Anaheim, San Diego, Ontario and Las Vegas because they are the favorite NBA team in those non-NBA cities, and “we want to ensure we visit our fans,” Jeanie Buss, the Lakers executivevice president of business operations, told City News Service.
At their exhibition games, the Lakers have their famed Laker Girls dance team perform and Staples Center public address announcer Lawrence Tanter serve in the same capacity in an attempt to replicate the experience of their home court for fans who might never have the opportunity to see them play there, Buss said.
To Laker coach Phil Jackson, exhibition games are a “necessary evil.”
“We play them because they’re really important to the organization, important to our fans,” Jackson said.
“I told the team point blank the other day that practices are more important to us than exhibition games at this time of the season. You get more accomplished, you get more conditioning. You have an opportunity to experiment with the game and (be) hands on and correct and coach teams better.
“The exhibition games do give us the chance to play the younger players. I don’t need to wear the veterans out.”
San Diego has not had an NBA team since 1984, when the Clippers moved to Los Angeles after playing six seasons in the San Diego Sports Arena, which is now considered inadequate to serve as a home court for an NBA team.
The lack of an adequate arena is considered to be the major impediment to the NBA returning to San Diego.
“I’d love to see it back, but I just don’t know how that’s going to happen,’' said Ralph Lawler, who was the San Diego Clippers announcer for five of their six seasons in San Diego and has been the Los Angeles Clippers announcer since the 1985-86 season.
The Clippers might have succeeded in San Diego, leading to the construction of a new arena, if not for injuries to Hall of Fame center Bill Walton, a San Diego native, Lawler said.
Walton signed a seven-year contract with the Clippers in 1979 reportedly worth a then-record $1 million per season in a move that Lawler compared to a team now signing LeBron James. However, he played only 14 games in his first season with the team and missed all of the next two seasons.
“Bill’s constant injuries really was kind of a death knell to the ball club,’' Lawler said. “Bill feels bad about it today because he kind of feels he let San Diego down. He didn’t. It wasn’t his fault.”