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Lakers are cautious with Lonzo Ball as they try to finish season strong and healthy

With only seven games left after Friday’s contest with the Milwaukee Bucks, the Lakers and Luke Walton know that their goals for the end of the season have to be secondary to their goals for the upcoming offseason.

“We want to finish the season strong and build some momentum into the offseason,” Walton said. “But because we’re obviously eliminated from the playoffs and we have a young team and know how valuable and important this offseason is going to be to us, we also want to be healthy going into it.”

It’s why the team is being extra cautious with Lonzo Ball and his left knee bruise — an injury he suffered in Wednesday’s win against the Dallas Mavericks.

Ball wasn’t in the lineup Friday night against the Bucks, and Walton made it clear that the team wouldn’t be rushing him back.

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“We’re not sure just because where we’re at we want to make sure he feels good and confident and he’s not compensating with the way that he’s running,” Walton said. “So, it will be kind of up to him how he’s feeling talking to the trainers, getting his treatment, then they’ll work it out and they’ll let us know when he can get back on the court.”

Friday marked the 23rd game this season Ball missed because of injury — 23 opportunities to take a valuable lesson into his first offseason as a professional.

“Well there’s a ton of learning opportunities from it,” Walton said. “You get to see what it’s like trying to make it through an NBA season; that’s why so few players that play big minutes make it through 82 games. It’s hard on the body.

“So, I think it’s a good tool for him to understand going into this offseason as far as getting stronger and continuing to dedicate himself in the weight room and things of that nature. It tests you mentally being hurt, but his spirits are always great.”

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Walton sees a familiar face

Friday wasn’t the first time Walton saw Milwaukee coach Joe Prunty on the sidelines.

Prunty helped coach Walton’s high school team in San Diego, assisting on the varsity squad when he wasn’t coaching the freshmen at University of San Diego High.

“I had a lot of fun with Coach Prunty when I was in high school,” Walton said. “He’s one of those guys that’s easy to talk to and he made the high school experience a lot of fun.”

Prunty became the Bucks coach this season after Milwaukee fired Jason Kidd in late January.

“Unbelievable player,” Prunty said of Walton. “His IQ was, and still is, off the charts.”

dan.woike@latimes.com

Follow Dan Woike on Twitter @DanWoikeSports


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