Lakers center Tarik Black grabs a rebound from teammate Larry Nance Jr. and Spurs guard Danny Green at Staples Center on Nov. 18.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Lakers guard Nick Young tries to steal the ball from the Spurs forward Kawhi Leonard late in the fourth quarter of a game at Staples Center on Nov. 18.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Former Lakers forward and current Spurs player Pau Gasol disputes a call with a referee at Staples Center on Nov. 18.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Spurs Danny Green grabs a rebound from Lakers forward Brandon Ingram as Pau Gasol looks on at Staples Center on Nov. 18.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Lakers forward Brandon Ingram is forced into a missed shot by Spurs forwards LaMarcus Aldridge, left, and Davis Bertans at Staples Center on Nov. 18.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Spurs guard Tony Parker gets a pass off in front of Lakers guards Luol Deng, left, and Nick Young at Staples Center on Nov. 18.(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)
Lakers point guard D’Angelo Russell missed Friday’s game against the San Antonio Spurs because of a sore knee.
Russell had been playing with the injury, the Lakers said, but couldn’t continue to do so Friday. He will be evaluated again to determine his status for Sunday’s home game against the Chicago Bulls.
Jose Calderon started in Russell’s place. Although Calderon does not typically play with the second unit, Lakers Coach Luke Walton has hesitated to break up the chemistry with that group when a starter goes down. The Lakers’ second unit is the NBA’s highest-scoring bench and includes guards Jordan Clarkson and Lou Williams, forwards Brandon Ingram and Larry Nance Jr. and center Tarik Black.
When the Lakers were without center Timofey Mozgov against the Atlanta Hawks earlier this month, they started rookie Ivica Zubac instead of starting Black.
Walton said he didn’t know the extent of Russell’s injury but hoped it wasn’t long-term. Calderon joined shooting guard Nick Young, Mozgov and forwards Julius Randle and Luol Deng in the starting lineup.
Their relationship began nearly 20 years ago when both were teenagers playing basketball for Spain.
When Lakers point guard Jose Calderon and Spurs center Pau Gasol first started playing for their country together in the 1990s, there had only been one Spanish player to make it to the NBA, and only briefly.
Now they are two of 10 Spanish players in the NBA.
“For us it was great to play for the national team and represent our country and, by doing that, being an example for all those young guys that are starting now,” Calderon said. “We all came from different families, little towns. Anybody can do it. It’s just about putting in the work. We were lucky to be together.”
The Spanish Olympic team, which won the bronze medal in Rio de Janeiro this summer, had seven active NBA players and three former NBA players on its roster. Many of the older players like Gasol, Calderon, Juan Carlos Navarro and Felipe Reyes have been together for nearly two decades, meeting each summer during their off-seasons to grow together.
They spent so much time together that Calderon can’t recall exactly how Gasol has changed over the years. But he remembers a long, skinny guy who had the potential to be great one day.
“I think we did a lot for basketball [in Spain],” Calderon said. “Everybody’s crazy about the national team all these years. It was great. Now even there’s 10 guys in the NBA from Spain this year. That’s a lot of people for a not-that-big country. Basketball is big now.”
Follow Tania Ganguli on Twitter @TaniaGanguli