The struggling Los Angeles Lakers will play their first game of 2024 on Wednesday when they host the Miami Heat. It will be the first of a stretch in which they will play 11 of 12 games at Crypto.com Arena.
The Heat have a terrific rookie swingman named Jaime Jaquez Jr. who was taken one pick after the Lakers’ Jalen Hood-Schifino in this past April’s draft. Jaquez is averaging 13.7 points a game while shooting 50.6% from the field this season, and he has given the offensively challenged Heat a boost.
He’s a local product — he was born in Irvine and grew up in Camarillo less than an hour away from downtown Los Angeles, and he played four years of college basketball at the University of California, Los Angeles. That may make it seem as if it would’ve been best for both parties if the Lakers had drafted him instead of Hood-Schifino, something that many fans of the team wish would’ve happened.
But Jaquez sounds like he’s actually glad he was drafted by a team in a different market.
“I wanted to get away,” he said. “I think, for myself, I thought it was important for me to be able to go out of my comfort zone and experience something new. I didn’t want to be a guy that said, ‘Oh, I just stayed in Southern California all my life.’
“I wanted to go live in a different, new place. And that’s why I was very excited to go to Miami. It was new. Everyone compares it, but I think it’s very, very different.”
The Heat are the defending Eastern Conference champions, but as usual, many are counting them out. However, they’re fifth in the East with a 19-14 record, and their gritty, never-say-die attitude means they will be a handful for L.A. on Wednesday.