After giving the Lakers a day off Friday, coach Luke Walton had a plan for practice Saturday, but it was short-lived. Just before practice started, the Lakers’ medical staff informed him that Josh Hart wouldn’t be able to participate in contact because of knee irritation.
The news was about par for the course, given the last few months.
The Lakers are so depleted that toward the end of Saturday’s practice, they had only nine healthy bodies for a scrimmage. A video coordinator subbed in as the 10th player.
“It’s a balancing act because we know we need guys to practice and get better at things,” Walton said. “But we also know when you’re down in numbers, like we are, you also can’t push them too hard and not have them fresh for a game.”
While Walton expects Hart to play Sunday against the Phoenix Suns, LeBron James has been ruled out. Saturday marked the first time he participated in full-contact drills with the Lakers since suffering a groin injury on Christmas.
“He looked good,” Walton said. “He’s still really good at basketball, in case you guys were wondering.”
Kyle Kuzma, who has been playing with a hip strain for the last week, is questionable for Sunday’s game. And Lonzo Ball remains a few weeks away from returning from a severely sprained left ankle and torn ligament.
“I’ve never broke a bone, but I thought that might have been it, but hearing four to six weeks is not that bad,” Ball said, speaking for the first time since his injury. “That’s never happened to me before. It was kind of like a freaky play. I don’t know really what happened. It happened kind of fast. I remember my leg pretty much just going like that and kind of popping out. That’s what it was.”
Ball wore a boot on his left foot Saturday, having been freed from crutches the day before. His days are filled with rehab — even during games, instead of joining teammates on the bench.
The injury not only dashed Ball’s plan of playing in all 82 games, but it also came at a time he was playing his best basketball of the season.
“I just had a good talk with my coaches,” Ball said of the stretch before the injury. “We had a little meeting. And I talked to a couple of my teammates and kind of like turned things around. Just got more focused, I guess, and just went back to having fun.”
The injury also came at a difficult time for the Lakers, already down James and Rajon Rondo. Rondo returned Thursday against the Minnesota Timberwolves with 15 points and a season-high 13 assists. But as he got better, others’ health deteriorated.
“It’s just when he plays a lot of minutes, and he hits the ground a lot,” Walton said of the hip injury. “So I think it’s just not healing as quickly as he would like. So we knew we were shutting him down yesterday and today. We’ll see how he’s feeling tomorrow. Hopefully on two days’ rest he’s feeling better. I told him if he’s moving like he was last game, I don’t want him playing tomorrow.”
While Kuzma is not inclined to miss games, he didn’t argue that point with Walton.
“It’s not fair to him, it’s not fair to his teammates,” Walton said. “The main thing is to me, when you’re not moving right, you’re more likely to get hurt anyways. We can’t have him getting hurt. He’s a tough kid. I know he wants to play.”
When: 6:30 p.m., Sunday.
On Air: TV: Spectrum SportsNet; Radio: 710, 1330.
Update: Injuries have ravaged both of these teams and left each on a losing streak: three for the Lakers and seven for the Suns.
Follow Tania Ganguli on Twitter @taniaganguli