Hi this is Tania Ganguli, Lakers beat writer for the Los Angeles Times, here with your weekly newsletter.
The Lakers play in Sacramento on Thursday night, and they are beat up like they haven’t been before. LeBron James is back in Los Angeles, rehabbing from a minor groin strain — an injury that can become major if it’s rushed or not properly treated.
All in all, it was tremendously good news for the Lakers. James terrified anyone who cared about his health when he said within view of cameras that he felt a “pop” in the area, but feeling a pop doesn’t always indicate a serious injury.
He left the Christmas Day game against the Golden State Warriors, and after an initial examination, relief set in for James and the Lakers. The muscle wasn’t torn and his recovery was expected to be relatively short. An MRI for James the next day confirmed it.
But he will still miss games. Then, late Wednesday night, the team revealed that Rajon Rondo sustained a Grade 3 (the worst of the grades) sprain in his right ring finger and would not be traveling with the team to Sacramento, either. A big blow, considering how important Rondo was to the Lakers after James left the game.
It will be their first time in a week and a half having JaVale McGee available, as he has been cleared to play and is with the team. But McGee just recovered from pneumonia, so how much he will play remains unclear.
It’s been a dramatic week for the Lakers. We’ll get to all that. But first, a fun little story.
Toward the end of Steve Kerr’s pre-game news conference on Christmas, a deep baritone voice spoke from the back of the room, asking about the Warriors’ championship aspirations.
Kerr smiled as he looked at the owner of said voice.
“You used to wear a Warriors shirt when you walked into this room,” Kerr said. “You’re wearing Lakers shirt? You’re the enemy, I can’t tell you.”
It was Bill Walton.
“I’m a very proud dad,” he said.
“You should be,” Kerr replied.
Many NBA players and coaches don’t get to spend Christmas with their families, but this year Lakers Coach Luke Walton got to do it in an unconventional way. Bill Walton and his wife, Luke’s stepmother, came to the game and brought someone else who was part of Luke’s childhood — Mickey Hart, a drummer for the Grateful Dead.
Hart and Luke Walton shared a pre-game hug and spent some time chatting before the game. Then they all got to see Luke’s team take a meaningful win against the Golden State Warriors.
Since last we spoke …
--This feels like it was months ago, given everything that’s happened since, but there was a big kerfuffle involving Anthony Davis a little over a week ago. It started when LeBron James stated the obvious in a brief chat with an ESPN reporter, saying it would be “amazing” if the Lakers traded for Davis, and including the word “duh” in his answer. ESPN followed up its story by querying executives around the league about whether this was tampering. Then the New Orleans Pelicans came to town. Alvin Gentry was well prepared for his shoot-around news conference.
--Julius Randle became a fan favorite with the Lakers last season and got stuck in a LeBron James-induced limbo during free agency. Ultimately, the experience taught Randle some important lessons. His return was one subplot of the Lakers’ game against the Pelicans.
--After the game, James asked me for a favor. “Ask me, would I like to play with Kevin Durant, ask me right now,” James said. Would you like to play with Kevin Durant? “Absolutely,” James said. “Ask me if I'd like to play with Jimmy Butler. Say it right now. Ask me about Kyrie Irving, Giannis [Antetokounmpo]. Ask me about [Joel] Embiid, Ben Simmons. Go ahead, all of 'em. Luka Doncic. Ask me right now.” Then he turned to the full group. “C'mon, guys; this is not rocket science. It's not rocket science. These are great players. Absolutely. I would love to play with a lot of great players. That is just who I am. People get caught up in bunches sometimes when they wish they could control what you say, and they can't control me, at all. And I play by the rules.” Here’s the video.
--Brandon Ingram and Rondo returned from injuries last week. Ingram used what he’d seen while sitting out to help his return.
--The Lakers had a lot of problems in a Sunday-night loss to the Memphis Grizzlies, who had lost their previous five games in a row. One of them was that Lonzo Ball made none of the seven three-pointers he attempted.
--It was a good sign for the Lakers that even without James they were able to put together a rout of the Golden State Warriors. Granted, the Warriors haven’t been who they were in the last four seasons. They’ve reached 12 losses months before they did in any of Kerr’s previous years coaching the team. But they still have the firepower to dominate teams, and on Tuesday night they were dominated. Some of the Lakers felt they’d made a statement of sorts.
--McGee was supposed to travel to Oakland and receive his championship ring from last season, but the Lakers didn’t bring him as he recovered from pneumonia despite the fact that McGee had been cleared over the weekend. The Warriors will give McGee his ring in February.
--Ivica Zubac has been making his mark while McGee, and sometimes Tyson Chandler, have been out. Zubac and Rondo were a big part of why the Lakers beat the Warriors.