One day after his first missed game of the season, Luol Deng put together perhaps his best game as a Laker.
“I’m just getting comfortable with how we’re playing and knowing guys’ tendencies and knowing where I can be aggressive and what not,” Deng said. “There’s games where I focus on other things besides shooting the ball. There’s games like [Friday night] I knew early, I had good looks and wanted to stay aggressive.”
Deng scored 19 points and added 14 rebounds with two assists and three turnovers against the Heat on Friday. He sat out Thursday’s game in Portland because of right biceps tendinitis, an injury that caused pain in his shoulder and one that started bothering him on Jan. 1 against the Toronto Raptors.
Deng is the highest-paid player on the Lakers roster, having signed a four-year deal worth $72 million this summer. Since he arrived, the Lakers lauded his off-the-court presence in helping to mold their young roster. On the court, though, he struggled to adjust to an offense unlike any other in which he played.
In late November, Deng began adjusting his playing style, planning to focus less on slashing to the basket, more on his shot. Throughout his career Deng has played better after the first 20 games of the season when playing with a new head coach. It happened each time the Bulls changed head coaches, and also when he signed with Miami in 2014.
“I think as the season goes on I will get better,” Deng said in November. “I never really had a challenge that I didn’t overcome.”
At the time, Deng was shooting only 32.3%. He’s now making 39.7% of his shots and shot 67% on Friday.
As Deng improves, he’s feeling the team improve, too.
“When I agreed to come here, the idea was, this is going to be a process so the main thing is really sticking with it,” he said. “… Once you start winning you start trusting in the system and trusting in each other. And I think we’re heading in that direction. It’s not going to happen overnight. There’s going to be ups and downs, but I feel like we’re improving.”
World Peace and Robinson get guarantees
Metta World Peace and Thomas Robinson began the season with nonguaranteed contracts, but that will change on Jan. 10.
Because the Lakers did not waive either player by 2 p.m. on Saturday, their contracts will become guaranteed for the rest of the season. In order to avoid guaranteeing a player’s contract, teams had to release them in time for them to clear waivers by Tuesday, a process that takes 48 hours.
Robinson played 17 minutes 29 seconds on Friday in the Lakers’ 127-100 win over the Heat. He had seven points and nine rebounds.
World Peace checked in with 2:12 left in the game, and the crowd showered him with cheers and applause. World Peace committed three fouls and took one shot, which he missed, and with every move, the Staples Center fans cheered more loudly.
Although World Peace rarely plays, Lakers Coach Luke Walton said he wanted him around his young players for his impact on the team.
Dragic surprised by ejection
Miami guard Goran Dragic told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel he was surprised to be ejected during Friday’s game after a scuffle with Lakers guard Jordan Clarkson.
“He was the aggressor and I got ejected,” Dragic said.
He and Clarkson tangled during the third quarter of Friday’s game. Clarkson said Dragic elbowed him in the stomach and chest, which led to Clarkson pushing Dragic. Dragic denied elbowing Clarkson.
Then Clarkson used his forearm to push Dragic to the ground. Dragic rose from the ground and charged at Clarkson, who put up both fists in a boxer’s stance.
“He was running at me I didn’t know what he was going to do,” Clarkson said. “I kind of put my hands up just trying to defend myself. I thought back to stuff Kobe [Bryant] told me about when he had an incident. Never leave your hands down when you’re about to get into something.”
Said Dragic: “I was in plenty of fights so I was not scared. I didn’t want to fight. I didn’t want to fight. It was emotional reaction for me. That’s it.”
When: 6:30 p.m., Sunday.
Where: Staples Center.
On the air: TV: Spectrum SportsNet, Spectrum Deportes; Radio: 710, 1330.
Records: Lakers 14-26, Magic 16-22.
Record vs. Magic: 0-1.
Update: Orlando last faced the Lakers at the end of a two-week trip in which the Lakers went 1-6. During that trip, the Lakers had taken big leads on many of the teams that beat them. The Magic weren’t one such team. Orlando beat up on the Lakers wire to wire two days before Christmas.