Lakers guard D’Angelo Russell expects to return on Tuesday against the Denver Nuggets. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)
EL SEGUNDO — Even with the time away from basketball, D’Angelo Russell spent Sunday in his first practice in over a week showing his lack of limitations.
Despite missing the past three games with a mild MCL sprain in his right knee and a strained right calf, the Lakers’ second-year point guard completed all of Sunday’s practice without any restrictions. He reported that he felt “good” and did not feel any rustiness. Most of the shots during the end of the practice went into the basket. Even if the Lakers (16-34) technically have listed Russell as questionable for Tuesday’s game against the Denver Nuggets (21-25) at Staples Center, both Russell and Lakers coach Luke Walton sounded optimistic he will play.
All of which prompted Walton to offer a playful dig to Russell.
“You’re moving so well I’m surprised that you couldn’t play 3-on-3 yesterday,” Walton told Russell.
The Lakers technically had the day off on Saturday, though plenty of players reported to the team’s practice facility for informal work. Since Russell felt his knee hurt too much to play in 3-on-3 drills, he spent Saturday working out in the weight room and completing sprinting drills.
Still, Russell does not expect to experience rustiness as he did when he had missed 13 games earlier this season after having a non-invasive procedure on his previously sore left knee.
“This one wasn’t that serious,” Russell said. “Last injury, I would say it was a little more serious. So I had to take a little more time off.”
Bill Walton was on hand to watch the Lakers season opener at Staples Center Wednesday, October 26, 2016. (Photo by David Crane, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)
There marked a time when Bill Walton’s infectious enthusiasm waned.
The Hall-of-Fame center could not continue his broadcasting career. He could not fulfill his favorite past time by riding on his bike. He could not walk, let alone move.
His spine collapsed on him, and so did his zest for life. So much that Walton had contemplated suicide. But after experiencing a dark moment nearly nine years ago as he remained on the floor of his San Diego home, Walton eventually received a surgery that added another meaning toward his endless fandom of “The Grateful Dead.”
With the 64-year-old Walton estimating his spent nearly half of his life in a hospital through 37 different orthopedic operations, he finally could start moving again. He has since uttered words he hardly envisioned he would say nearly nine years later.
“I’m feeling fantastic,” Walton said in a recent interview with Southern California News Group. “I’m just getting started in life.”
It’s unclear if Brandon Ingram will start at point guard on Wednesday in Portland. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)
Through the good and the bad, Luke Walton has become inclined to allow rookie forward Brandon Ingram to play through his mistakes.
Generally speaking, Walton believes that approach will allow Ingram to accelerate his development. Walton also has wanted to reward Ingram with playing time for his steady progression and consistent effort.
But after Ingram appeared overwhelmed as the Lakers’ starting point guard in the team’s loss to Dallas on Sunday in what became the most lopsided defeat in franchise history, Walton sounded uncertain if Ingram would receive that nod when the Lakers (16-32) visit the Portland Trail Blazers (19-27) on Wednesday at Moda Center. Ingram had six points on 2-of-12 shooting in 36 minutes against Dallas, a sharp contrast to the 15-point performances he posted last week in consecutive games against Detroit and Indiana.
“It still felt a little off,” Walton said. “So we might make some changes to the lineup again.”
Lakers guard D’Angelo Russell will travel with the team for its back-to-back in Portland (Wednesday) and Utah (Thursday) to continue his rehab on mild MCL sprain in his right knee and strained right calf. That leaves Walton possibly leaning on 35-year-old veteran reserve Jose Calderon, who has averaged 3.8 points on 45.1 percent shooting and 2.2 assists in 12.3 minutes through 21 appearances.
“Jose is a natural point guard,” Walton said. “He gets you into offenses and he’s been doing it for 20 years now. He’s obviously a space shooter and guys have to respect him. That creates some more opportunities for other players. So it’s more of a traditional point guard.”
That would put Ingram back at the small forward spot. But it doe not appear likely he would start there. Though Lakers veteran forward Luol Deng left practice early on Tuesday after colliding with Tarik Black, the Lakers expect Deng to play. Deng, who has nursed a sprained right wrist in recent days, has not missed a start unrelated to injuries despite averaging 8.2 points on 39.6 percent shooting.
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Los Angeles Lakers head coach Luke Walton on the sidelines in the first half. The Clippers defeated the Lakers 113-97 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, CA 1/14/2017. Photo by John McCoy/Los Angeles Daily News (SCNG)
EL SEGUNDO — As he has managed his resources all year, Lakers coach Luke Walton has tried to stick to a simple criteria.
His minute allocation will depend on who’s playing well. So he will ride out the hot hand until the flame burns out. He will sit the cold one in hopes it will warm up soon.
Sure, he might grant more playing time to his young players both to develop them and allow them to play through their mistakes. Yet, he has clung to his belief not to reward any player with minutes if they are not giving the effort needed.
Based off of that criteria, the Lakers (15-31) enter Friday’s game against the Indiana Pacers (22-19) at Staples Center with Walton unlikely to alter his bench rotation just so his starters can have more playing time.
“It’s probably not going to change because our bench has been so good for us all year,” Walton said. “We’re not going to shorten the bench’s minutes to get the starters get back in sooner. The bench most nights is posting big numbers for us.”
Despite completing the last two practices, Larry Nance Jr. won’t play in Friday’s game against the Indiana Pacers. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)
EL SEGUNDO — Any movement Lakers forward Larry Nance Jr. made on the practice floor represented significant progress. After all, Nance has sat out for the past four weeks nursing a bone bruise in his left knee, meaning he could no longer leap for dunks and rebounds as he normally has done.
But despite completing practices on Wednesday and Thursday without any reported setbacks, Nance will not play when the Lakers (15-31) host the Indiana Pacers (22-19) on Friday at Staples Center. The Lakers plan to reevaluate Nance’s knee on Friday evening and provide an update on Saturday for his availability for Sunday’s game in Dallas.
“That’s definitely a medical call. It’s their job to clear me,” Nance said. “Apparently, I have a few more tests to pass and everything. But I’m just looking forward toward getting back, whenever that is. I hope they let me play four weeks ago. If it was up to me, I wouldn’t have missed anytime. I’m just happy to be nearing getting back out on the court.”
In the past week, Nance has progressed steadily from 1-on-1 and 2-on-2 court exercises. Nance completed most of Wednesday’s practice before the Lakers’ training staff kept him out of more physical drills at the end of the session. Nance went through all of Thursday’s practice without any restrictions.
That prompted Lakers coach Luke Walton to say Nance “looked good” before proclaiming him as questionable for Friday’s game. Shortly afterwards, the Lakers’ training staff Nance him out.
“The way I saw he played today, it looked like he could play,” Walton said. “But that’s not a medical opinion. That’s just me watching him play basketball.”
LOS ANGELES — The M-V-P chants usually became reserved for a certain Lakers closer that remained reliable for nearly 20 years to make shots when it mattered most.
With Kobe Bryant no longer under the limelight, Lakers fans channeled those cheers recently toward starting center Timofey Mozgov. Despite his four-year, $64 million price tag, Mozgov has become more valued for his solid offensive and defensive contributions than any hope he would become the face of the Lakers’ franchise. Hence, those fans seemingly anointed Mozgov as the Lakers’ MVP more out of jest.
But during the waning moments of the Lakers’ 127-121 loss to the Denver Nuggets on Tuesday at Staples Center, another more likely candidate to carry the Lakers in the future emerged. Lakers rookie center Ivica Zubac heard those M-V-P chants as he stepped to the foul line in the waning minutes of Tuesday’s loss to Denver at Staples Center. This time, the fans sounded serious.
“People just having fun,” Zubac said with a smirk. “Way too soon.”
Yet, it is not way too soon to say that Zubac has provided more signs that validate why the Lakers selected the Croatian center with their 32nd draft pick last summer.
Against the Nuggets, Zubac posted career-highs across the board in points (11), field goals made and attempted (5-of-11), rebounds (13), blocks (3) and minutes played (26). At 19 years and 305 days old, Zubac also became the third-youngest Laker behind Andrew Bynum and D’Angelo Russell to record a double-double.
“He was really good, but I’m not going to say he turned a corner,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said. “I’m just going to say he was really good.”
Still, that did not stop plenty of others from basking in the excitement.
Lakers head coach Luke Walton sat two of his young stars for reserves who helped the team make a furious fourth-quarter comeback Tuesday in a loss to Denver. (John McCoy/Staff Photographer)
EL SEGUNDO — The unspoken words told Lakers coach Luke Walton that Lakers guard D’Angelo Russell and Lakers forward Julius Randle would not sulk about sitting out in fourth-quarter stretches. Their effort in Wednesday’s practice showed Walton they will channel any frustration with diminished playing time productively on the court.
“There was also a nice feistiness to practice with guys getting after it,” Walton said. “I would hope some of that would be some people being upset they weren’t playing.”
Only 10 days ago, Walton had praised Russell and Randle for their improved play, work habits and consistent work habits. Though Walton argued their performances mostly dictated the Lakers’ success, Russell and Randle sat out final 19 minutes and 33 seconds of Tuesday’s 127-121 loss to Denver Nuggets at Staples Center.
Russell has five points on 2-of-9 shooting and three assists in 17 minutes, concluding a five-game stretch in which he has shot 32.8 percent from the field and 11.1 percent from 3-point range. Though he did not talk after Wednesday’s practice, Russell criticized his play after Tuesday’s loss and praised Walton for sitting him. Yet, Walton said he did not bench Russell as a way of “dangling a carrot” to motivate him.
“It’s never about ‘This what you need to do so this is your reward,'” Walton said. ‘This is what you need to do because this is what’s right, this is what we need out of you and this is how we become a better team.’ It’s not about the end result. It’s about what he’s doing possession by possession to start the game. Then if that all happens, naturally he’ll be in at the end of the game because of the way he’s playing.”
Clippers center DeAndre Jordan #6 dunks the ball in front of Los Angeles Lakers forward Julius Randle #30 in the first half. The Clippers defeated the Lakers 113-97 at Staples Center in Los Angeles, CA 1/14/2017. Photo by John McCoy/Los Angeles Daily News (SCNG)
LOS ANGELES — The tactic contradicts Luke Walton’s belief in defenders taking pride in both guarding their man and helping out on rotations. The strategy also disrupts Walton’s hope to see a game played at a swift pace.
So when the Lakers’ prepared for their designated road game against the Clippers on Saturday at Staples Center, the Lakers coach did not tell his players to intentionally foul DeAndre Jordan to expose his poor free-throw shooting. But after the Lakers suffered a 113-97 loss to the Clippers that entailed Jordan posting 24 points on 12-of-13 shooting and 21 rebounds, Walton admitted, “It’ll be nice to foul him every once in a while.”
Jordan had only one free-throw attempt, which he missed on a three-point play. He made his first 10 shot attempts. He threw down nine dunks.
“DeAndre is a hell of a player and he gets stuff done out there,” Walton said. “But his weakness is shooting free throws.”
Lakers forward Brandon Ingram said his left wrist felt fine during Friday’s practice. Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG
EL SEGUNDO — It remains to be seen if Lakers forward Brandon Ingram winds up having issues with his sprained left wrist. But at least for now, Ingram said he has not experienced any issues.
A day after playing through the injury, Ingram said he felt “a little bit” of soreness during Friday’s practice. Yet, Ingram said he completed the session without any limitations.
“Of course, there’s a lot of adrenaline, so I don’t feel it that much,” Ingram said. “But it’s good.”
Ingram said the injury stemmed from taking a fall during Wednesday’s practice. He did not feel any pain until hours prior to Thursday’s game in San Antonio. X-rays came out negative and revealed no fractures.
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Lakers rookie forward Brandon Ingram has attacked the basket more in recent games. (Photo by Hans Gutknecht, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)
EL SEGUNDO – As he carried sneakers with one hand and his workout clothing with the other, Brandon Ingram remained intent on continuing his on-court regimen.
The Lakers’ rookie forward had already spent the team’s “offday” on Saturday working out at the team’s practice facility. He followed that up with an individual workout with Lakers assistant coach Brian Keefe, who has trained Ingram on a nearly daily basis. Ingram’s day was hardly finished, though. Even at 8:30 p.m., Ingram still had time for one more workout.
There marked only one problem, though. The Lakers’ Development League affiliate, the D-Fenders, already took the floor for a regular-season game. But just as he has reacted to a swarm of defenders trying to physically intimidate him, Ingram did not allow the D-Fenders’ itinerary to disrupt his routine. He simply found a gym nearly five minutes away from the Lakers’ facility to sweat some more.
“If I’m not asleep,” Ingram said, grinning, “it’s probably all basketball.”
That scene captures why the Lakers have become encouraged with Ingram’s steady growth as a defender, post player and ball handler. It also explains why the Lakers have stayed patient with Ingram when he has averaged 7.9 points on a 36.9 percent clip.
“When you have that type of work ethic and you can play basketball the way he can,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said, “he’s going to continue to get better and better at different things.”