As the Lakers finished practice Monday, Rajon Rondo worked by himself with a coach at a basket opposite a group of reporters.
He dribbled with his right and left hands. He shot with his right. All this only 11 days after he had surgery to repair a broken bone in his right hand. And the soft cast that had wrapped around his wrist was nowhere to be seen. After taking a few shots, Rondo called Lakers head athletic trainer Marco Nunez over for a chat.
“It looked like he ripped his thing off,” Brandon Ingram said. “He’s been trying to practice ever since the first day he broke his hand, so I’m not surprised at all that he’s back there shooting right now.”
The Lakers initially said that Rondo would be sidelined four to five weeks after suffering the injury Nov. 14 in a game against the Portland Trail Blazers. Rondo didn’t dispute that timetable when he spoke with reporters, but he began lobbying to return to practice almost immediately after his surgery.
“I love it,” coach Luke Walton said. “To me players should always want to take control and get back as soon as they can. And it’s our job to constantly monitor that and make sure they’re being smart and safe about what they’re doing. So he’s very eager to be out there and be in as much activity as he can, so when he’s fully cleared he’s not as rusty. But the training staff tells him what he can and cannot do.”
The Lakers offense has suffered without Rondo. He helped facilitate it and made sure his teammates were in the right places at the right times.
“Rondo is so calm with the ball,” center JaVale McGee said, “and he’s a general out there on the floor so he knows exactly what plays to run.”
In the five games the Lakers have played without Rondo, their advanced assist statistics — assist ratio, assist percentage and assist-to-turnover ratio — have ranked near the bottom in the NBA. In their last two games, they had 41 turnovers.
“We have a way of how we want to play and the identity of who our team is and by the end of the season, we will be a team that is constantly making those extra passes,” Walton said. “When you make the extra passes, your assists go up. It’s the way the game should be played.”
Though guard Josh Hart did not practice, Walton said he expected him to play Tuesday night at Denver. Hart suffered a sprained ankle last Wednesday in a game at Cleveland but later returned to the game.
He played 14 minutes Friday night against the Utah Jazz, but Walton said he didn’t seem 100%.
Hart was listed as probable for Sunday’s game against the Orlando Magic and played 15 minutes.
The Lakers gave LeBron James a day off from practice.
“Yeah he played 40 minutes last night, so rest,” Walton said. “We have a tough schedule coming up with this game, travel go to Denver, back to back [against the Indiana Pacers and Dallas Mavericks on Thursday and Friday] and then a Sunday 12:30 [game against the Phoenix Suns]. So it’s going to be tough to get a lot of practice time.”
LAKERS AT DENVER NUGGETS
When: Tuesday, 6 p.m. PST.
On Air: TV – Spectrum SportsNet, NBATV; Radio – 710, 1330.
Update: The last time the Lakers faced the Nuggets, Oct. 25 at Staples Center, they handed the Nuggets their first loss. After the game, when asked how the Lakers handled Nuggets center Nikola Jokic, LeBron James smiled and said, “Speed kills.”
Follow Tania Ganguli on Twitter @taniaganguli