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Vogel: Lakers 'have to be even better' to repeat as champs

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Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.

FILE - Los Angeles Lakers' LeBron James, rear, and Anthony Davis (3) celebrate after the Lakers defeated the Miami Heat 106-93 in Game 6 of basketball's NBA Finals in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., in this Oct. 11, 2020, file photo. Anthony Davis is finalizing a five-year contract worth up to $190 million to return to the Los Angeles Lakers. Davis' agent, Rich Paul of Klutch Sports, confirmed the terms of Davis' pending free agent deal to The Associated Press on Thursday, Dec. 3, 2020. One day after LeBron James agreed to a two-year, $85 million contract extension with the Lakers through 2022-23, Davis committed to the Lakers through the 2024-25 season. (AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill, File)

LOS ANGELES – After the longest season and the shortest offseason in NBA history, the champion Los Angeles Lakers are back at work with two content superstars, a younger lineup around them — and a steady confidence they can do it all again.

The Lakers seem confident and collected as they head into team workouts this weekend, about eight weeks after they finished off the Miami Heat in the NBA Finals on Oct. 11.

A distinct lack of vacation time aside, Los Angeles begins the new season in an apparently stellar position. LeBron James and Anthony Davis extended their commitments to the Lakers earlier this week, and they'll lead a slightly reconfigured roster that looks even better than last season's squad with NBA veterans Dennis Schröder, Montrezl Harrell, Marc Gasol and Wesley Matthews.

Before Frank Vogel gets down to the week-to-week challenges of keeping his veterans fresh, navigating travel during a pandemic and taking every opponent's best shot every night, the Lakers coach laid out a few guiding principles to his players at the team's training complex in El Segundo.

“We’re going to have to be even better,” Vogel said Friday. "The first thing you have to understand about going into a repeat situation is it’s going to be harder than the year before. The bull's eye is going to be bigger. We played longer than everybody else and had a shorter offseason than anybody else, so the odds are stacked against us from that standpoint. The identity of what and who we were last year has got to be repeated.”

Vogel is referring to the defensive excellence that set apart his Lakers, who created their own tenacious identity in the history of a 17-time champion franchise best known for the flashy offensive exploits of the Showtime 1980s teams and Kobe Bryant's 21st-century squads.

With Davis leading the way, Los Angeles had the third-best defensive rating (106.1) in the NBA during the last regular season, and the Lakers kept it up in the playoff bubble.

The Lakers lost major defensive contributors Avery Bradley and Dwight Howard to free agency, but Davis and Alex Caruso are back along with the four veteran newcomers, who can all excel on both ends.