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Lonzo Ball will not play for Lakers until after the All-Star break, coach Luke Walton says

Lonzo Ball will not play for Lakers until after the All-Star break, coach Luke Walton says
Lakers guard Lonzo Ball looks on during a game against the Dallas Mavericks in Dallas on Saturday. (Richard W. Rodriguez / Associated Press)

Lonzo Ball will not play for the Lakers until after the All-Star break, Lakers coach Luke Walton said Tuesday.

That means Ball will miss about six weeks with a sprained medial collateral ligament. Walton assumes Ball will be out for the Rising Stars game. Although his official status hasn't been determined, it is unlikely Ball would skip the two Lakers games preceding All-Star weekend and then play in that Friday exhibition at Staples Center.

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Games on Wednesday in New Orleans and Thursday in Minnesota will be the 14th and 15th games Ball has missed because of the MCL sprain. He also missed six games earlier in the season with a shoulder sprain.

The latest injury is improving.

On Tuesday, Ball participated in practice and took some contact with his teammates, in half-court defensive drills, for the first time since suffering the injury. Walton said that Ball is still a little sore but that he is making good progress.

The Lakers did not make Ball available to discuss his situation.

Ball was injured while playing against the Dallas Mavericks on Jan. 13. He returned to the game after he sprained his knee, but experienced more severe pain the next morning. Ball acknowledged last week that the injury was much more serious than what he initially thought. The Lakers at first said Ball had a "minor knee sprain," but it since has proved to be a severely sprained MCL.

The Lakers plan to stick with the same starting lineup they have used for the last five games — a lineup that includes Brandon Ingram at point guard. That means Isaiah Thomas will come off the bench again.

Veteran help

Twice during Tuesday's news conference, Walton quipped that his newest big man, Channing Frye, never stops talking.

He clarified, both times, that Frye's loquaciousness was actually a good thing.

By adding Frye and Thomas, the Lakers increased their team's average age significantly. They replaced a pair of 25-year-olds with Frye, who is 34, and Thomas, who is 29. Walton already has seen both players use their experience to help teammates.

"I called [Thomas] over one time [during Saturday's game] and said, 'Hey they're starting to blitz you now,' so he's like, 'I already told Brook [Lopez]; I already told the guys out here,' " Walton said. "That type of leadership from the point guard position is gonna be great for the other guys.

"And then Channing's great. He literally talks all day long. It's positive and it's from doing closeouts with the bigs today about having your left foot a little higher and keeping your arm up. Things that we teach as well but when a teammate that's been in the league 12, 13 years tells you, as well as your coaches, it just speeds things up."

Having won a championship in Cleveland, Frye recognizes that isn't the end goal for this team.

"Really, what is my motivation?" Frye said. "What is the thing that's going to get me focused and locked in? It's the experience of helping these kids grow. It's the experience of winning, appreciation of winning. Some of the best years I've had in this league have been with teams that have been counted out. We make the playoffs — or even if we get close — it's exceeding expectations, having fun and growing."

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Update: The Pelicans are trying to keep their playoff hopes afloat despite losing DeMarcus Cousins to a torn Achilles tendon. New Orleans is 30-26, tied with Denver for seventh place in the Western Conference.

Follow Tania Ganguli on Twitter @taniaganguli

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