LOS ANGELES -- Luke Walton sat behind a podium with a familiar sponsors' backdrop behind him and a microphone in front of him. But before the Sacramento Kings head coach could talk, he had to take off the surgical mask covering his mouth and nose.
The cameras on Doc Rivers made the veteran coach look like he had just been slimed before the Clippers could figure things out. As Lakers guard Alex Caruso tried to answer a question, someone from the media forgot to mute their microphone, bringing the interview to a quick pause.
Welcome to NBA Media Day 2.0 -- the virtual edition -- where there are constant reminders that everything is different from the last time we saw anyone play basketball.
Yeah, people are talking about basketball, but they're also talking about Black Lives Matter, about police stops that escalated and about fighting for justice. The same coronavirus that stopped the NBA season nearly four months ago? That's still a huge issue too.
But for as much as everything seemingly has changed since we last saw the Lakers and the Clippers run up and down a court, those two teams are hoping that the work they put in earlier this season will somehow translate into title contention when games resume in Orlando, Fla.
The two best teams in the Western Conference, teams that sacrificed their futures in trades for Anthony Davis and Paul George to try to win now, are about to enter an environment where no one knows quite what to expect.
"It kind of is a whole new ballgame. It's almost like anybody can win -- it's why a lot of people are like it's going to be an asterisk next to whoever wins. I think that just makes it so much tougher," Washington Wizards star guard Bradley Beal said. "It makes an even playing field in a way. It gets guys back healthy for teams that didn't have that during year. It gives guys time to rest and get back into it. It's an even playing field. If you were hot during the year, hell, I might be cold when I get back."
But Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka, Lakers coach Frank Vogel and Clippers coach Doc Rivers all said the same thing during video conference calls conducted with the media this week -- that who they were when the season stopped March 11 is crucial to who they'll be when games restart at the end of July. Pelinka said the Lakers' 49-14 record was "very significant in terms of a team identifying its fabric, its DNA and its chemistry."
"Orlando itself is going to be as much of a mental test as a physical test because of the circumstances," Pelinka added. "... This team of guys loves being together and love playing together."
Beyond chemistry, Rivers thinks the Clippers might be a more optimized version of their team when they get back. They've been productive in their time off, stepping back and sharpening how they view the team they'll put on the court.