During the last day and a half, Brandon Ingram kept in touch with LeBron James via group chat.
“We talked to him just about his injury a little bit before he left,” Ingram said. “Just how he was going to take it day to day, how he’ll be back soon and just how we can be really good with or without him.”
That will be the Lakers’ test for the next few games as James works to recover from his mild groin strain. It’s an injury that could have been much worse, but one from which neither he nor the Lakers want James to rush back.
Compounding matters is that point guard Rajon Rondo, another veteran voice who has been a leader for the Lakers, is also out with a Grade 3 sprain to his right ring finger. It all means that, once again, the attention falls to the Lakers’ young players.
Ingram, for one, is embracing the challenge.
“It’s an opportunity,” Ingram said. “It’s an opportunity for me to go out there and play my game a little bit more. I think I’m going to be a little bit more ball dominant, cutting off the basketball. I have to play even better defense and be on the help-side on the defensive end. So it’s a chance for me to just up my game a little bit.”
Rondo and James were two of the most vocal players on the court for the Lakers. Their absence will give the Lakers a chance to better see how their young players are developing.
“Are guys going to be more vocal now than they were last year or they were earlier this season?” coach Luke Walton said. “Or are we only going to hear Tyson [Chandler’s] voice tonight, you know what I mean? So these are things we should have gotten better at so I’m excited to see how it plays out.”
With James out against Sacramento, and center JaVale McGee out as well, the Lakers started Ingram, Lonzo Ball, Kyle Kuzma, Josh Hart and Ivica Zubac. They were all drafted by the Lakers in 2016 and 2017, and they’ll have a chance to show just how much they’ve learned.
Even when McGee returns, which figures to be sooner than Rondo and James do, Zubac will have a place in the rotation.
“It’s just like our team from last year,” Ingram said. “We just have a lot of young guys that’s grown in this league, I think. We’re a year older now so we’ve seen some things and we’ve experienced some things, so we just go out here and play our basketball games. We know what to do and we’ve seen a lot of things so we just continue to push it to the edge.”
The Associated Press named James the male athlete of the year for the third time, ahead of Mookie Betts, Alex Ovechkin, Patrick Mahomes and Justify.
James won the honor for both his on-court accomplishments (making it to his eighth consecutive Finals) and his off-court achievements (helping open the I Promise School, a public school in Akron, Ohio).
“Thank you ‘AP’ for the award,” James said on Twitter. “Obviously this isn’t for me, it’s for all my @IPROMISESchool kids, kids all over the world and adults as well that allow me to talk for them, lead them, dream with them and inspire them every single day! THANK YOU”
LAKERS VS. CLIPPERS
On the air: TV: Spectrum SportsNet, Prime Ticket; Radio: 570, 710, 1330.
Update: In collecting 22 points, nine points, five blocks and two steals in Wednesday’s victory against Sacramento, Clippers forward Montrezl Harrell became only the eighth player in the last decade to produce that stat line.
Follow Tania Ganguli on Twitter @taniaganguli