Lakers shut down Ivica Zubac for rest of season after suffering high ankle sprain

Lakers center Ivica Zubac will miss the rest of the 2016-17 season after suffering a high ankle sprain. Photo by Steve McCrank, Daily News/SCNG

After an MRI confirmed a high ankle sprain in his right ankle, Lakers center Ivica Zubac will miss the remainder of the 2016-17 season.

The Lakers are exercising caution for obvious reasons. After selecting him with the 32nd pick of the 2016 NBA draft, the Lakers view Zubac as a worthy long-term investment. But the news marks a missed opportunity in which the Lakers and Zubac could continue his steady growth with their seven remaining regular-season games.

Zubac gave the Lakers plenty of optimism with his long-term trajectory with his post presence, hook shot, mid-range jumper and defense. While averaging 7.5 points on 52.9 percent shooting and 4.2 rebounds, Zubac also impressed the Lakers with his steady growth, work habits, improving his conditioning and losing weight.

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Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter and on Facebook. E-mail him at mmedina@scng.com. Subscribe to the “We Want Tacos” podcast on iTunes.

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Why Lakers’ Luke Walton found communication issues contributing to Ricky Rubio’s career-high performance

MINNEAPOLIS — In something that has become a rarity all season, the Lakers initially followed their defensive scouting report.

With the Lakers facing a Minnesota Timberwolves team that features a versatile big man (Karl-Anthony Towns), a versatile wing (Andrew Wiggins) and a dynamic playmaker (Ricky Rubio), the Lakers narrowed their priorities on how to defend Minnesota’s three best players. Lakers coach Luke Walton considers Towns and Wiggins as “players that can get 30 [points] on any given night.” Walton views Rubio as “more of a facilitator,” matching the league-wide perception that his passing becomes much more dangerous and consistent than his shooting.

“With our defensive schemes right now,” Walton said, “what we try to do is take away one thing.”

But as the Lakers tried to take away one thing, they wound up giving up everything. The Lakers lost to the Minnesota Timberwolves, 119-104, on Thursday at Target Center with Towns, Wiggins and Rubio scoring mostly anytime they wanted. Rubio posted a career-high 33 points while shooting 12-of-20 from the field and 4-of-5 from 3-point range and adding 10 assists. Towns added 32 points on a 11-of-22 clip and nine rebounds. And Wiggins contributed with 27 points while going 9-of-20 from the field and 8-of-10 from the free-throw line.

Yet, Walton became more upset with how the Lakers defended Rubio than how they defended Towns and Wiggins for one specific reason.

“Towns and Wiggins are players you can play as good as you want on them defensively. They can still find a way to get 25-30 points,” Walton said. “I’m not saying we did a great job on them defensively but it’s different than the [33] that Ricky got on us.”

That’s because Walton found the team’s lack of defensive communication playing a significant part in fueling Rubio’s hot shooting night.
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How Jeanie Buss’ support for Luke Walton has made his job easier

Los Angeles Lakers guard D’Angelo Russell (1) talks with Laker Head Coach Luke Walton , during a time out against the Portland Trail Blazers , during the 1st quarter, at the Staples Center. Los Angeles Calif., Sunday, March 26, 2017. ( Photo by Stephen Carr / Daily News / SCNG )

MINNEAPOLIS — The demands on his schedule prevented Lakers coach Luke Walton hearing governor Jeanie Buss reveal in a podcast with Forbes Sports Money that “Luke Walton is somebody I believe can be our coach for the next 10 or 15 years as long as we don’t kill him.”

He has plenty enough to keep him busy coaching the Lakers (21-53) entering Thursday’s game against the Minnesota Timberwolves (29-44) on Thursday at Target Center. Though Walton had not heard Buss say those words on a podcast, the Lakers’ coach said he has heard Buss say those words in other instances.

Ever since the Lakers hired Walton in the 2016 offseason after serving as an assistant coach with the Golden State Warriors for the previous two years, Walton said Buss has “been incredible” as she has offered support as they talked in person or via text message.

“As a coaching staff, it’s really nice to hear and know,” Walton said. “We can do things that we feel are best for the team and not have to worry for now at least if we’re a part of that future. It’s very comforting to coach that way.”
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Lakers’ Jeanie Buss reiterates support for Luke Walton

Los Angeles Lakers Team President Jeanie Buss, during The Los Angeles Sports & Entertainment Commission (LASEC) 13th annual LAKERS ALL-ACCESS, at the Staples Center. Los Angeles Calif., Monday, February ,27, 2017. ( Photo by Stephen Carr / Daily News / SCNG )

As she pondered hiring Magic Johnson first as an advisor and subsequently to oversee the team’s basketball operations, Lakers governor Jeanie Buss pressed Johnson on one specific topic to make sure they held similar views.

“What was important to me was how he felt about our coach, Luke Walton,” Buss said on a recent podcast with Forbes Sports Money. “Luke Walton is somebody I believe can be our coach for the next 10 or 15 years as long as we don’t kill him.”

It turns out Johnson agreed with Buss with as much conviction as the beliefs they share in holding the previous front office in Jim Buss and Mitch Kupchak largely responsible for the Lakers two weeks away from missing the NBA playoffs for the fourth consecutive season.

“I believe if we build with Luke in mind, he is somebody that can be around a long time,” Buss said. “That is exactly what Magic Johnson said.”
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Lakers’ Luke Walton doubts Brandon Ingram will play Thursday vs. Minnesota

Lakers forward Brandon Ingram (14), left, defends Cleveland Cavaliers forward LeBron James (23) during a game at Staples Center in Los Angeles on Sunday, March 19, 2017. (Photo by Kyusung Gong/Orange County Register/SCNG)

MINNEAPOLIS – Shortly after practice ended, Lakers rookie forward Brandon Ingram performed a series of stretches to extend his range of motion. He then took a few shots.

All of which marked the extent in which Ingram participated in Wednesday’s session after missing the past two games with tendinitis in his right knee. Since Lakers coach Luke Walton has wanted Ingram to complete a full practice before returning, Walton considered it “most likely” Ingram will sit when the Lakers (21-53) visit the Minnesota Timberwolves (29-44) on Thursday at Target Center.

Still, Walton did not entirely close the door on Ingram’s return. Ingram plans to receive more treatment and complete an evening workout. While Ingram is not currently ready for any three-on-three drills, the Lakers could increase Ingram’s workload during Thursday’s morning shootaround and prior to tipoff.

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Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter and on Facebook. E-mail him at mmedina@scng.com. Subscribe to the “We Want Tacos” podcast on iTunes.

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How Lakers’ D’Angelo Russell offered nearly a complete game against Washington

Los Angeles Lakers guard D’Angelo Russell (1) drives to the basket against Washington Wizard Ian Mahinmi (28) in the 1st quarter at the Staples Center. Los Angeles Calif., Tuesday, March 28, 2017. ( Photo by Stephen Carr / Daily News / SCNG )

LOS ANGELES — The passes looked so crisp when D’Angelo Russell found teammates that his defenders did not notice were open. The shots looked so smooth as Russell squared up from the both behind the perimeter and in the post. The defensive activity looked sharp as Russell contested shots and pointed out rotations.

In a season in which the Lakers hoped their second-year guard would blended all those ingredients together consistently, Russell mixed the right recipe to ensure nearly a complete game in the Lakers’ 119-108 loss to the Washington Wizards on Tuesday at Staples Center.

Lakers coach Luke Walton described the team’s third-quarter execution in which they scored 37 points on 15-of-16 shooting as “beautiful.” So was Russell’s play, which Walton called “great” and “brilliant.” He scored nearly anytime he wanted to as he posted 28 points while shooting 10-of-21 from the field and 4-of-12 from 3-point range. He provided the kind of playmaking that both produced nine assists and contributed to backcourt mate Jordan Clarkson posting 22 points on a 10-of-19 clip. And while no one will mistake the Lakers for displaying a defensive clinic against Washington’s John Wall (34 points) and Bradley Beal (16), Russell impressed Walton for “being active on defense.”

“It’s all about consistency. It’s something I’m trying to build on now,” Russell said. “I’m trying to be defensive minded from the start. It takes my game to another level.”
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Lakers’ Brandon Ingram to miss Tuesday’s game against Wizards with right knee injury

Los Angeles Lakers forward Brandon Ingram (14) drives to the basket against Dallas Mavericks’ Seth Curry, left, in the first half of an NBA basketball game in Dallas, Tuesday, March 7, 2017. (AP Photo/Tony Gutierrez)

EL SEGUNDO — After rarely showing any signs of fatigue during his rookie season, Lakers forward Brandon Ingram will miss his second consecutive game on Tuesday against the Washington Wizards because of patellar tendinitis in his right knee.

Ingram will travel with the Lakers for Thursday’s game in Minnesota, but it’s not currently clear if he will play. The Lakers plan to practice in Minnesota on Wednesday in what would mark Ingram’s first practice since injuring his knee at the end of Thursday’s practice. Although he played on Friday against Minnesota, Ingram sat out the entire fourth quarter and overtime period after feeling more pain in his knee.
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Lakers’ Larry Nance Jr. has knack for playing through pain

LOS ANGELES — The ball went up in the air. So, of course, that meant Lakers forward Larry Nance Jr. would chase it. After all, there’s never a hustle play that Nance decides to take off.

But that also set up a collision course for Nance. With Lakers guard D’Angelo Russell throwing a cross-court pass toward Nance in the final minute of Friday’s overtime win over Minnesota, Timberwolves forward Gorgui Dieng poked Nance in the eye and nose in hopes to grab the ball. Nance immediately went to the ground as he nursed a bloody nose and plenty of dizziness.

“Anytime you get hit in the face or get hit in the nose, it obviously takes a while to recuperate yourself,” Nance said following the Lakers’ 130-119 overtime win over Minnesota on Friday at Staples Center. “Anytime you get hit in the nose, tears start to swell up. It doesn’t matter. I didn’t necessarily want Staples [Center] seeing that.”

Instead, the crowd at Staples Center saw Nance provide another example of his toughness. Instead of leaving the game, Nance stood up and went to the foul line. Though he later lamented he only split his pair of free throws, Nance deserves kudos for even stepping to the foul line and taking them. Nance also made a pair of foul shots in a Lakers’ win against Phoenix on Nov. 6 after taking a hard fall that later developed into a concussion.

“At a certain point, it becomes muscle memory,” Nance said. “Whether I was seeing 1 ½ or 2 rims, my muscles kind of took over and guided me on those.”
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Lakers’ Jordan Clarkson improved his confidence to secure career-highs against Minnesota

Lakers guard Jordan Clarkson had a career-high 35 points in a 130-119 overtime victory over Minnesota on Friday. Photo credit: Mark J. Terrill/AP Photo

LOS ANGELES — With his attempts clanking off the rim nearly on every shot, a frustrated Jordan Clarkson ran past the Lakers’ bench and told coach Luke Walton regarding the state of his stroke.

“My shot is broke,” Clarkson said.

So after concluding a 1-of-9 shooting performance against the Clippers on Tuesday, Clarkson spent the next two days staying in the gym to fix his shooting accuracy. Clarkson maintained he did not make any changes to his routine or shooting form. He just kept his repetitions high. All of a sudden, Clarkson looked like a changed man in the Lakers’ 130-119 overtime win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Friday at Staples Center.

Clarkson posted career-highs in points (35), field goals made (13-of-20) and 3-pointers (8-of-10), while also posting five rebounds and three assists. He joined Jordan Farmar and Glen Rice as the third Lakers player since 1983 to make at least 8 3-pointers on 10 or fewer attempts. And he steered the Lakers through bumpy waters in both overcoming a 15-point third-quarter deficit and prevailing in extra regulation.

“He seemed to have that spark back he played with for most of the year,” Walton said. “The last couple of games, I feel like his confidence has been a little down, which we don’t want, obviously. But he definitely seemed to have it going again.”
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Lakers sign David Nwaba to a two-year deal

Lakers guard David Nwaba (10), left, tries to drive past the Cavaliers forward Richard Jefferson (24) during a game at Staples Center in Los Angeles on Sunday, March 19, 2017. (Photo by Kyusung Gong/Orange County Register/SCNG)

With the Lakers eager to collect as much data for evaluation purposes, they considered it more valuable to retain undrafted guard David Nwaba than to sign another player to a 10-day contract.

The Lakers signed Nwaba on Tuesday to a two-year deal, including a team option for the 2017-18 season, according to a league source familiar with the terms. While Nwaba is guaranteed to be with the Lakers for their remaining 12 games of the 2016-17 season, the second year of his deal is non-guaranteed.

“We have been impressed by David’s focus and determination, especially on defense,” Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka said in a statement released by the Lakers. “He has a mentality about him that is infectious, and he works hard every day to improve himself. He has brought energy to both our Lakers and D-Fenders games, and has certainly earned his spot on the roster.”

Nwaba, who starred at University High of Los Angeles and Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, averaged 3.6 points and 2 rebounds while shooting 48.1 percent in 14.4 minutes through 10 games (eight as a reserve and two as a starter) during two 10-day contracts. He previously played with the Lakers’ Development League affiliate, the D-Fenders, where he averaged 14.1 points, 6.9 rebounds, 1.4 steals and 1.0 blocks in 29.0 minutes per game.


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Follow L.A. Daily News Lakers beat writer Mark Medina on Twitter and on Facebook. E-mail him at mmedina@scng.com. Subscribe to the “We Want Tacos” podcast on iTunes.

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