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LeBron James is ruled out for Lakers game Thursday, but Rajon Rondo likely to play

LeBron James is ruled out for Lakers game Thursday, but Rajon Rondo likely to play
Injured forward LeBron James, left, talks with Lakers teammate Brandon Ingram during the second half of a game against the New York Knicks earlier this month. (Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

LeBron James practiced on a limited basis Wednesday, but he has been ruled out for Thursday’s game against the Minnesota Timberwolves, Lakers coach Luke Walton said after practice. Rajon Rondo, meanwhile, practiced without limitations and is likely to play Thursday, pending how he feels before the game.

“The only pain I have is in the morning time,” Rondo said of his injured hand. “It’s just stiff. Once I do about an hour and a half worth of work on it it’s a lot better.”

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James was cleared to participate in practice starting this week, but it is still unclear when he will return to full-contact practices. He suffered a strained groin on Dec. 25 in the third quarter of the Lakers’ win over the Golden State Warriors.

He has missed 14 games and in that time the Lakers have gone 5-9.

Rondo has missed all 14 of those games, as well.

Rondo tore a ligament in his right ring finger on Christmas and had surgery three days later. His injury’s timetable was originally listed as four to five weeks. The veteran point guard is wearing a sleeve over his ring and middle fingers while playing now.

“It’s just finger sleeves,” Rondo said. “I don’t wear a wrap, I haven’t had any swelling this time around, so I say I hope for the best tomorrow.”

Having been fully cleared last week, Rondo has been practicing with his team for a few days. He joked that he wore a red quarterback’s jersey, which indicates a player isn’t allowed to be tackled in football.

“Nobody’s really touched me,” Rondo said. “Except for Lance [Stephenson], he’s hacked me a couple times, but that’s just my jersey and my shoulder.”

Ball’s recovery

Lonzo Ball has been using crutches to get around. Although he has been with the team, he’s not been visible as he recovers from a torn ligament in his ankle.

“Treatment’s a priority,” Walton said. “Depending on our roster, you are only allowed to sit certain amount of people on the bench, there’s new rules, you can’t be on the floor anymore, so depending on how many guys we have up from the G League team will go into play with that but the treatment part of it is always the priority.”

Ball suffered the injury in the third quarter against the Houston Rockets on Saturday and is expected to miss between four and six weeks.

Playoff race

At 25-23, the Lakers are still very much in the hunt to end their playoff drought at five years. Before Utah played Denver on Wednesday night, the Lakers were in ninth place, a game back from both the Jazz and the Clippers, who are tied for seventh.

In the other direction, the Lakers are only a game ahead of Sacramento and 1½ games ahead of the 11th-place Minnesota Timberwolves, against whom they’ll be playing Thursday night.

The Lakers already have more wins than they did in two of those playoff-less seasons, and are within two games of their total wins in the 2016-17 season and 2014-15 season. Last season, the Lakers went 35-47, showing a marked improvement over their previous seasons.

This season, of course, came with different expectations for a very good reason. To a group of plucky young players, the Lakers added the most coveted free agent on the market. That’s exactly why Rondo isn’t worried about their playoff prospects.

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“Well, we’ve got LeBron, so,” Rondo said. “I don’t know the last time he missed the playoffs.”

UP NEXT

VS. MINNESOTA

When: Thursday, 7:30 p.m.

On the air: TV: TNT, Spectrum SportsNet; Radio: 710, 1330.

Update: The Timberwolves might have had a boost of confidence lately, having faced the Phoenix Suns in back-to-back games. Minnesota won both games and is 23-24 this season.

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