About a week after he had a second surgery on his right hand, Rajon Rondo was getting restless.
He wasn’t allowed to travel with his Lakers teammates. He wasn’t allowed to shoot. But after one practice at home, his teammates were getting ready for their usual post-practice shooting competition and he wanted in. Coach Luke Walton had to step in and talk Rondo out of it.
“I explained to him that it’s probably not a great idea for him to be doing shooting competitions,” Walton said. “But he’s going a little stir crazy over there. He loves playing the game and being hurt this much, I think, has really been tough on him.”
It’s the competition Rondo has missed most. He’s into his third week of recovering from a torn ligament in his right ring finger. He had surgery last month, following a November procedure to fix a fracture. Consequently, he’s played only 14 games for the Lakers, and will be out at least another week and a half.
The veteran point guard, whom the Lakers have missed desperately with LeBron James also out, has to scratch his competitive itch some other way.
“Play a lot of Connect Four, UNO, spades, bourre’,” Rondo said. “Other activities where I can compete without using my hand muscle. That’s about it.”
The Lakers appear to be taking things much more slowly than with his previous injury. The third metacarpal bone in his right hand — the one that extends into his middle finger — was broken Nov. 14. He had surgery the next day, but still was able to travel with the team.
Ten days after that surgery, Rondo was seen at a practice shooting with his right hand. He seemed wildly ahead of schedule, but not long after, Rondo experienced swelling in his hand and had to have fluid drained.
He returned to action Dec. 21, and on Christmas helped the Lakers weather losing James in the third quarter. They beat the Golden State Warriors in large part because Rondo kept them settled. His veteran presence had a calming effect.
But he also suffered a Grade 3 sprain to his right ring finger, which included a torn ligament. This time, the hand specialist forbade him from traveling for 12-14 days. Competition had to be reserved for non-basketball activities. Eventually, he was able to practice on a limited basis.
“He plays defense out here,” point guard Lonzo Ball said. “He can’t really do too much with his hands. But he runs up and down with us. He’s talking the whole time, what he’s been doing all year for us.”
Rondo has been cleared to shoot again, and soon can rejoin the post-practice shooting competitions.
“My [travel] ban has been lifted,” he said Monday. “I'm off of house arrest and I will be traveling with the team on the upcoming schedule.”
Rondo’s love of Connect Four, and his savant-like ability playing the game, has been well documented. It fits the mold of a point guard known best for the way he thinks about the game. A great point guard can see a few steps ahead of whatever is happening on the court, and Rondo can do that within a game like Connect Four.
“I'm trying to beat up on anybody I can, if possible,” Rondo said. “Whether it's my son, whether it's LeBron or whether it's my brother. Whatever competitive thing I can do that's not gonna further injure or set back my hand. I try to play with anyone."
Now that he can travel again, his pool of opponents will grow, helping him further satisfy his competitive hunger. Both the Lakers and Rondo are hoping he’ll soon be able to do much more.
VS. CHICAGO BULLS
When: 7:30 p.m., Tuesday
On Air: TV — Spectrum SportsNet, NBATV; Radio — 710, 1330
Update: The Lakers have gone 3-7 without LeBron James and are coming off a loss to Cleveland, the worst team in the Eastern Conference, days after losing to New York, which shares the second-worst record in the East with Chicago: 10-33.