April 15, 2024

Gabe Vincent’s ‘really solid’ return gives Lakers another key playoff option

NEW YORK — Gabe Vincent thought he was back for good.

When the 27-year-old Los Angeles Lakers guard returned to the lineup Dec. 20 against the Chicago Bulls after a 23-game absence, he believed he was over his left knee injury. He had drained fluid from it, then underwent platelet-rich plasma therapy. But his knee, as Vincent put it on Sunday during his first media availability in more than three months, “kind of had a mind of its own.”

Following a setback, including some swelling and discomfort, the Lakers temporarily shut Vincent down. They eventually settled on surgery a week later.

“It got to a point where I couldn’t compete at the level I needed to to help this team win games,” Vincent said. “It was a long road to recovery, and we’re here now.”

Vincent underwent arthroscopic knee surgery Dec. 27 and was initially projected to miss six to eight weeks, a timetable that pegged his return to the week following the All-Star break, at the latest. Instead, it turned into a three-month, 46-game absence.

After an extensive ramp-up process, including an pregame on-court run with the other reserves before Friday’s loss to the Indiana Pacers, Vincent returned to the lineup in the Lakers’ 116-104 win over the Brooklyn Nets on Sunday at the Barclays Center. The Lakers improved to 42-33 and 3-1 on their six-game road trip, which concludes with a back-to-back against the Toronto Raptors and Washington Wizards on Tuesday and Wednesday.

“I wouldn’t step on that court if I didn’t feel like I could help my team win games,” Vincent said. “Whatever the role may be, whatever the minutes may be, that’s not for me to decide.”



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Vincent entered Sunday’s contest as a game-time decision before being cleared to return 30 minutes before the game. He checked in with three minutes and 34 seconds remaining in the first quarter, replacing Austin Reaves as the Lakers led 26-6 after a 17-0 start.

Vincent assumed the minutes of Cam Reddish and Max Christie, neither of whom played during the competitive portion of the win. Vincent finished with two points (1-for-4 shooting, 0-for-2 on 3s), one rebound and one assist in 14 minutes. He was the eighth man behind the five starters, Spencer Dinwiddie (21 minutes) and Taurean Prince (15), earning reps in bench-centric units as well as in D’Angelo Russell’s place next to the other four starters.

“I thought, for a guy that’s been out that long, he came in and had some big possessions,” Lakers coach Darvin Ham said. “Defensively, he was trying to get after it. Offensively, at times, it’s gonna come, he’ll see his shot go in. But I think just him getting thrown out there, he had the only bucket off our bench, ironically. But he’ll get there, it’s gonna take a little bit of time. But what I saw is a guy trying to get his rhythm in the right area.”

Vincent’s value was apparent, even if the box score didn’t necessarily reflect it. He was aggressive offensively, taking two shots within his first two minutes of action. He navigated screens and pressured 94 feet in spurts on defense. He complements the other three guards — Reaves, Russell and Dinwiddie — fairly well. He’s still a ways away from finding his rhythm and regaining his shooting touch, but Vincent projects as an upgrade over Reddish and Christie as the team’s reserve, defensive-minded guard.

On his lone basket, Vincent drove from the right wing toward the left elbow, stopping and fading away for a tough, contested jumper that banked in.

“Overall, I think he looked really solid,” Anthony Davis said.

On his lone assist, Vincent called for a Davis screen, which Davis slipped. Vincent got downhill and found Davis with a late lob for a dunk.

“Just told him, ‘Happy to have you back, man. Congrats and happy to have you back out there,’” said LeBron James, who led the Lakers with 40 points. “Obviously, first action in so many months, the legs, the lungs are the first thing to go. But I thought he was great in the minutes he was out there, and it was great to have him back.”

The Lakers’ bench had more turnovers (six) than points (two), though it’s worth noting Vincent was the only bench player to score. With Dinwiddie still playing passively at times and Prince’s shooting fluctuating nightly, the Lakers could use Vincent’s microwave scoring ability.

That said, it’s the other end of the floor where Vincent can help most. After struggling defensively for most of the 2024 calendar year, the Lakers rank fourth in points allowed per 100 possessions over their past seven games. Their competition level has been low, with wins over the Atlanta Hawks, the Joel Embiid-less Philadelphia 76ers, the Memphis Grizzlies and Nets in that stretch. But the Lakers have also ratcheted up their effort and intensity with the playoffs nearing.

I hate when the other team scores,” Vincent said. “Simply. So whether it’s me getting a stop or me on the bench cheering my guys on to get a stop, I hate when they score. So, if I’m on the court, I’m going to do whatever I can to keep them from scoring.”

Even with only seven games remaining in the season, Vincent’s return is significant. He was the Lakers’ primary offseason addition, signing a three-year, $33 million contract to replace Dennis Schröder as the team’s backup guard and potential closing option next to Reaves and/or Russell. Vincent showed during the Miami Heat’s NBA Finals run last season that he can be a key contributor on the game’s biggest stages.

“The reason we brought him here was his competitive fire, his physicality, his point-of-attack defense, his ability to score the ball,” Ham said. “And just him being highly competitive in the biggest moments, him not taking a backseat to anybody. We saw the run he had through the playoffs last year with Miami. And just he’s a fighter and just he has a quiet leadership, a quiet toughness about him. So we thought that would fit well with what we have going on here already.”

Vincent said he’s unsure how much he will play in the upcoming back-to-back to end the road trip.

“I’m going to let them take care of it,” Vincent said. “I got faith in the training staff and the coaching staff, and they have faith in me; they put me in there for whatever minutes they do, and hopefully I continue to build trust with these guys in this locker room.”

(Top photo: David L. Nemec / NBAE via Getty Images)