Lonzo Ball rode the bus from El Segundo to Ontario with his teammates Wednesday afternoon, sharing the drive that took more than two hours, into his turf.
Ontario, where the Lakers faced the Nuggets in their third preseason game, is only a 20-minute drive from Chino Hills, where Ball was raised. But the hometown crowd’s only glimpse of Ball came as he sat on the bench or stood on the edge of the huddle wearing his warmups.
The Lakers held Ball out of the game due to a mild left ankle sprain. Missing three projected starters in Ball, Brandon Ingram and Brook Lopez, while the Denver Nuggets sat Paul Millsap, Nikola Jokic, Gary Harris and Wilson Chandler, the Lakers lost 122-104.
That dropped them to 0-3 in the preseason.
“My guess is, yeah, he would have played in a regular-season game,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said of Ball. “[Head trainer] Marco [Nunez] told me he was out. We were prepping for the game so I didn’t ask what went into that decision. Obviously I will have deeper talks with Marco tonight and tomorrow.”
Missing so many players, Walton started an unorthodox lineup of Tyler Ennis at point guard, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope at shooting guard, small forward Luol Deng, power forward Julius Randle and center Thomas Bryant, whom the Lakers drafted in the second round this year.
There were no official statistics for the game due to an error with a new statistical system being used by the league, but Kyle Kuzma appeared to lead the team in scoring for the third consecutive game.
Even if there were stats, Walton might not have been interested. The Lakers gave up 41 points in a lackluster first quarter. By halftime the Nuggets had scored 74 points.
“I told them at halftime, we can’t make any adjustments because the effort is not there,” Walton said. “It is not like we are seeing what they are doing to our coverages. They are out there running five on [none] offense. So as far as the specifics are concerned, unfortunately in the first half we might as well throw that tape away.”
It didn’t help either that the Lakers haven’t yet seen their full group of starters together in a game.
In addition to Ball, the Lakers were without starting small forward Ingram, who bumped heads with Nuggets guard Malik Beasley on Monday night. He was diagnosed with a head bruise. Ingram was examined by a doctor who cleared him of a concussion.
“Just have headaches,” Ingram said. “Right now I don’t feel like myself to come in and play right now. Of course this is preseason. If it was a regular season game I’d be out there right now. ... Kind of got hit. Woke up the next morning. Felt a little bit. Probably had a headache ever since.”
Projected starting center Lopez has not played yet in the preseason because of back spasms. He was cleared to play, but the Lakers opted to hold him out as well.
“It would be nice to do that,” Walton said of the prospect of playing all of his starters together. “Hopefully we will have BI and Zo back. …Brook will be in the starting lineup on Sunday, which will be nice. Yeah, it will be nice to start getting that group more time together as we figure out who it is.”
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