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Luke Walton wants Lakers to keep the ball moving, but passes need to have a point

Lakers guard Nick Young, left, tries to pass while under pressure from Memphis Grizzlies forward JaMychal Green during a Jan. 3 game.

Lakers guard Nick Young, left, tries to pass while under pressure from Memphis Grizzlies forward JaMychal Green during a Jan. 3 game.

(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

Right from the start of his tenure as the Lakers head coach, Luke Walton made clear what a priority ball movement was for him.

More than halfway through the season, that is still very much a work in progress for the Lakers.

“I would say it comes down to us passing the ball and making shots,” Lakers guard D’Angelo Russell said. “When we play [defense] as a team it makes it that much more easier for us. We have a lot of success once we pass the ball and everybody gets a touch. It’s just making the right basketball play from there.”

Each game, Walton wants his team aiming for 300 passes. They’ve accomplished the feat often enough in January that their average per game is 301.8 passes attempted during the month, according to NBA.com’s statistics. But that number doesn’t always tell the whole story.

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“There’s been a few games where we’ve gotten smacked and haven’t played well and the passing numbers were high,” Walton said.

One of those games was against the San Antonio Spurs, when the Lakers made 349 passes and lost by 40 points. That day the Lakers and the Detroit Pistons were tied for the most passes of any team that played, and both teams lost. Despite all that ball movement, the Lakers attempted only 85 shots, a number that ranks in the lower half of their attempts in a game this season.

That was one of two games this month in which the Lakers had more than 300 passes and still lost — it also happened last week in Portland.

“There’s some nights we have it and it makes zero sense because we played awful,” Walton said. “I think that’s because we get in these modes sometimes where we’re actually passing the ball but there’s not purpose behind it. … The purpose behind it is we want the ball constantly moving and then when those pass numbers go up it results in positive play. But if you’re just going to pass and not put any pressure on the defense, then it’s just a pointless pass.”

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When it has worked, it has paid off for the Lakers. Against the Memphis Grizzlies, in one of the wins this season that Walton recalls with the most pride, the Lakers passed the ball 301 times and had 84 points off assists — the most of any team that played that day. In their Jan. 20 win over the Indiana Pacers, the Lakers had 317 passes and 27 assists, second only to the Warriors that day.

Though the number of passes tells you only so much, it has been one way to measure how this Lakers team has been able to adapt to what Walton wants. In November the Lakers averaged 289.8 passes per game, in December — as they went 2-14 — only 283.6.

Deng responds to executive order

Lakers forward Luol Deng released a statement in support of refugees worldwide on his social media accounts Monday.

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“I would not be where I am today if it were not for the opportunity to find refuge in a safe harbor,” the statement said. “For the people of South Sudan, refugee resettlement has saved countless lives just as it has for families all over the world escaping the depths of despair. It’s important that we remember to humanize the experience of others. Refugees overcome immeasurable odds, relocate across the globe and work hard to make the best of their newfound home. Refugees are productive members of society that want for their families just as you want for yours. I stand by all refugees and migrants, of all religions, just as I stand by the policies that have historically welcomed them.”

It was Deng’s first public comment since President Trump issued a travel ban on people from seven predominantly Muslim countries — Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Libya and Somalia.

Deng was a refugee as a child when his family fled from what is now South Sudan during a civil war. The Lakers said he will be available to reporters after Tuesday’s game.

Injury update

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Julius Randle was examined by a doctor and cleared for basketball activities Monday night, the Lakers said. Randle had pneumonia and will not be available for Tuesday’s game.

Point guard D’Angelo Russell is on track to play, but has not yet been cleared for Tuesday’s game. Russell suffered a sprained medial collateral ligament and a strained calf muscle in his right leg. He has missed three games because of the injuries.

UP NEXT

LAKERS VS. DENVER NUGGETS

When: 7:30 p.m. PST.

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Where: Staples Center.

On the air: TV: Spectrum SportsNet, Spectrum Deportes; Radio: 710, 1330.

Records: Lakers 16-34, Nuggets 21-25.

Record vs. Nuggets: 0-1.

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Update: The last time these teams played, Nikola Jokic had 29 points and 15 rebounds for the Nuggets. For this game, Jokic might be out with a hip injury. This will be the Lakers’ last home game before a five-game trip to the Eastern Conference while Staples Center is occupied by the Grammy Awards.

tania.ganguli@latimes.com

Follow Tania Ganguli on Twitter @taniaganguli

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