When opposing coaches talk about what’s difficult to stop when playing the Lakers, they often talk about their pace.
During the last five weeks, the Lakers’ pace has not been what they want it to be and that’s in part because they lost two of their top playmakers, Rajon Rondo and Brandon Ingram, to injuries.
Overall this season, the Lakers’ pace has been third-highest in the league. Since Rondo suffered a hand injury in mid-November, the Lakers’ pace has fallen by two possessions per game, which would drop it out of the top 10 leaguewide.
“We’ll kind of ease our way into it, feel some things out,” Lakerscoach Luke Walton said. “But having another brilliant play-making point guard eventually once we get rolling again, yeah, I see the pace getting higher again.”
Rondo broke his hand on Nov. 14 and had surgery the next day. This week, the Lakers sent him on a rehabilitation assignment to the South Bay Lakers. They wanted him to be able to practice with a team while the Lakers completed their first East Coast trip.
Rondo has missed 17 games so far and could be back by the time the Lakers host the New Orleans Pelicans on Friday.
At first, the Lakers’ turnovers shot up and their assists plummeted upon losing Rondo. Three times in the two weeks that followed, they had fewer than 20 assists, once only 10. And while they eventually improved in those areas, their pace has yet to recover. Seven of the Lakers’ 10 games with the slowest pace have come while Rondo has been out.
Checking in on the West
The four-game trip that ended Tuesday wasn’t kind to the Lakers, but it hasn’t knocked them too far down in the standings.
After going 1-3 on the trip, the Lakers are fourth in the Western Conference, 3½ games back of the Denver Nuggets. They’re three games back of the Golden State Warriors and two games back of the Oklahoma City Thunder.
The compacted conference standings mean they can’t feel too sorry for themselves when injuries happen, and it means they can’t think ahead to when they’ll get players back.
“You can’t look ahead in the West,” point guard Lonzo Ball said. “You gotta go with what you got and try not to lose. Go out there to win. Hopefully we get guys back on Friday. If not, take this unit and get it done.”
Through the end of December, the Lakers will play the Sacramento Kings twice and the Clippers, Warriors, Memphis Grizzlies and Pelicans once.
Kyle Kuzma has scored 20 or more points in eight of the Lakers’ last nine games, and has been one of the team’s best rebounders and free-throw shooters during that time.
Kuzma hasn’t missed a free throw since Dec. 2. In the month of December, he’s made 27 of 30 free throws.
Walton was asked Tuesday why he’s been such a good fit next to LeBron James.
“He’s a born scorer, he wants to score all the time,” Walton said. “And LeBron is one of the greatest passers in our game. He’s unselfish and he draws double-teams, so I think any time you’re a scorer and playing with playmakers, it’s a good fit for you.”