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Doing grunt work makes Larry Nance Jr. a valuable asset for Lakers

Larry Nance Jr. have averaged 10.2 points, 7.6 rebounds, 2.0 steals, and 2.0 assists a game in February.
(Michael Reaves / Getty Images)

On a team dependent on rotations, where few starting spots are guaranteed, the Lakers have tried so many different groups that nearly every player has had a shot at least once this season.

Oddly enough, the one player who hasn’t started yet is one of the Lakers’ most important pieces — Larry Nance Jr.

In the Lakers’ five games in February so far, Nance has averaged 10.2 points, 7.6 rebounds, 2.0 steals, and 2.0 assists. His double-double against the Knicks last Monday was his fourth of the season.

On Friday in Milwaukee, Nance showed his value in a way he often does — through the grunt work that sometimes doesn’t show up on the stat sheet.

“Tonight definitely probably wasn’t going to be a night that I was gonna score big numbers,” Nance said after Friday’s 122-114 win over the Bucks. “But hey, that’s fine. As long as we get the win, as long as I help defensively, as long as I help on the glass, assists, whatever it may be. When teams play me aggressive they’re leaving somebody else open. I’m glad we found that person.”

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Nance sat out 16 games this season, from Dec. 22 through Jan. 20, because of a bone bruise in his left knee. While Nance was out, the Lakers went 5-11 and suffered five losses by double digits — including a 19-point loss, a 21-point loss and a 40-point loss.

His return happened slowly. At first Lakers trainer Marco Nunez limited Nance’s minutes. Then the Lakers slowly integrated him back into the rotation. Last week he finally began to feel his explosiveness return, while acknowledging that is the last thing to come back after sitting out with an injury.

On Friday, Nance played 28 minutes 25 seconds, more than every player except Nick Young and Luol Deng. He took only three shots, making one, and had five rebounds, a steal and three assists. His 11 points came mostly from nine free throws he made, out of 10 attempts.

“A big reason he was so valuable and we left him in the game throughout the fourth was he was making plays,” Lakers Coach Luke Walton said. “With deflections on the defensive end for us, he’ll have put-backs and extra possession type of plays. Even though he only took three shots, he made a bunch of free throws, he was big for us as far as winning tonight.”

A short break before a long break

The Lakers (19-37) have played a grueling schedule until now, but their reward is that it will lighten soon.

Their annual “Grammy trip” marked the final set of road games against Eastern Conference opponents for the year. It was the Lakers’ second long trip of the season. They spent 13 days playing seven games against Sacramento and six Eastern Conference teams in December.

As of Friday, no team had played more games than the Lakers’ 56.

Now the Lakers will have a three-day break before playing again. And even that comes with a reprieve. After back-to-back games against the Kings and Phoenix Suns, the All-Star break will give the Lakers time to catch their collective breath.

Etc.

The Lakers have two of the league’s top-three players in drawing four-point plays this season. Young ranks second in the league with six four-point plays. He converted two on Friday. Lou Williams is third with five. They both trail Toronto’s Kyle Lowry, who has seven. … The Lakers are as healthy as they’ve been in a while. All three players listed on their injury report as of Saturday were listed as probable. … Walton canceled a full practice Sunday and instead the team will do individual work. The Lakers did not practice Saturday, having just returned from their 10-day trip.

tania.ganguli@latimes.com

Follow Tania Ganguli on Twitter @taniaganguli


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