LeBron James, with his hands in his purple sweat pants and a serious look on his face, eased his way onto the Honda Center court to thunderous cheers and camera phones flashing as he joined his Lakers teammates in the huddle Saturday night.
The sold-out crowd of 18,040 had to accept that James and Lonzo Ball were not going to play in the exhibition game against the Clippers, James for rest and Ball because he’s still listed as day-to-day. The Clippers won 103-87.
It was the first exhibition game out of four the Lakers have played that James sat out for rest and “to be ready for the regular season,” coach Luke Walton said. Ball has yet to play in any of the games, but Walton said the second-year guard is “close” to taking the court.
In fact, Walton said he expects James and Ball to play together for the first time Wednesday night in Las Vegas against the NBA champion Golden State Warriors.
James sat on the bench and constantly coached and gave instructions to his teammates during the game.
The Lakers have two exhibition games remaining, the one in Las Vegas against the Warriors and the final one Friday night against Golden State in San Jose.
“Yeah, I do, most likely in Vegas,” Walton said. “That’s one of the things we still need to see. We haven’t had what lineups will look like when guys are playing. I’m excited and hopeful. But, again, we’re going to take it day by day [with Ball]. Any setbacks, we won’t rush it again. But I would expect Wednesday it would happen.”
Ball worked out Saturday, going through a series of drills with the Lakers coaching staff.
The Lakers will take Sunday off and practice Monday and Tuesday, giving Ball more time to get his body right and ready to play.
“We got a nice chance here to really get him where we want him,” Walton said. “It just felt right to not try to make it happen tonight. … He’s getting real close though.”
Of course not having James meant another starting lineup change for Walton.
The most significant was Walton again starting Kentavious Caldwell-Pope at shooting guard instead of Josh Hart.
Hart had been impressive in his last starts in the previous two games, averaging 15.5 points and shooting 47.6% from the field, 33.3% from three-point range.
But Caldwell-Pope, who started the first game but came off the bench in the last two, was back starting with Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, who started in place of James, JaVale McGee and Rajon Rondo, who was back in the lineup after resting during the Sacramento game Thursday night.
Caldwell-Pope had 10 points in 23 minutes, Hart had eight points and six rebounds in 22 minutes and Kuzma 15 points in 22 minutes.
Lou Williams had 19 points, and Tobias Harris 18 points and eight rebounds to lead the Clippers.
“One of our themes is it doesn’t matter who’s starting,” Walton said. “Everyone is going to play a role. Everyone is going to help us win. Everyone is going to finish games for us, depending on how things are going. A little bit of a lot went into this decision, but we are very confident with KCP being in the starting lineup as well.”