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Lakers rookie Brandon Ingram is feeling close to 100%

On the first play of the Lakers’ game against Memphis on Sunday, Brandon Ingram drove to the basket, his face contorted with intensity and aggression — the kind he didn’t always have early in the season.

Ingram didn’t get to finish the game, but he made his mark at the start.

“I felt great being out there,” Ingram said. “Of course, when you’re going through the motions like that you really don’t think about the injury. ... Think I’m almost back to 100%. I was definitely anxious to get back out there.”

Ingram sat out three games because of knee tendinitis. Had the Lakers been in a playoff push, Ingram might have played. As their offseason means more than the remainder of this season, they were opting to to keep Ingram out of games.

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He returned Saturday against the Clippers on a restriction of 24 minutes. Ingram played slightly less than that Saturday.

Against the Grizzlies on Sunday, Ingram’s minutes restriction was slightly looser, but still played only 23 minutes 15 seconds. Ingram played nearly all of the first quarter and all of the third quarter.

“The team was playing fine. We figured we could leave him out there and get off tomorrow to recover,” coach Luke Walton said.

Even with so little of the season left, Walton wanted to get Ingram back into the lineup before the season ended. Ingram’s progress this season has been significant.

“It’s just building confidence going against guys, realizing mismatches,” Ingram said. “On the defensive end just trying to trust my feet, build up the guys on the weak side. I think overall everything is just flowing and just getting better and better.”

Van Exel returns

Nick Van Exel spent five seasons with the Lakers after being drafted in the second round in 1993.

On Sunday, he was in Staples Center in a very different role — as an assistant to Grizzlies coach David Fizdale.

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“I’m telling you people wouldn’t, they wouldn’t understand how great a coach he is,” Fizdale said.

Fizdale credits guard Mike Conley’s growth to Van Exel’s tutelage.

“When I coached [Van Exel] I thought he was a jerk,” Fizdale said. “But he was the good kind of tough guy. He would go home and digest it and come back to you the next day and say you know what, you’re right.”

Since his playing career ended, Van Exel has been an assistant in college, the NBA and the development league. As Fizdale sees it, part of his strength as a coach lies in his own stubbornness back when he was a player. Van Exel can relate to players who feel the same way he did years ago.

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“Over the course of his career, he started to learn people aren’t here to hurt me,” Fizdale said. “He started accepting coaching. Some guys take longer than others to get that but once he got it, he went back to some of these coaches and said, man, I’m sorry for being so hard to coach. … That’s a big reason why I have him here.”

tania.ganguli@latimes.com

Follow Tania Ganguli on Twitter @taniaganguli

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