Their playoff ambitions lost, the Lakers are turning their attention to the future.
With one month left in the season, the Lakers are 30-35 and 6½ games out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference, leaving little reason to push their players’ physical limits.
For Lonzo Ball it might mean not playing the rest of the season. For LeBron James that might mean playing fewer minutes to preserve his body for next season.
“We’ll continue to monitor them and play him where I want,” coach Luke Walton said of James’ minutes on Friday. “It won’t be a restriction as far as what his max minutes are. If I feel like playing him more minutes, I’ll play him more. But we’ll keep a closer eye on how much we play him.”
Ball is scheduled to visit with doctors Saturday, but Walton said the second-year point guard is not close to returning. Ball has missed seven weeks after sustaining a Grade 3 left ankle sprain, which includes a torn ligament. Further complicating Ball’s recovery is a bone bruise on his ankle.
“Lonzo hasn’t had himself an offseason yet, as far as development, which is a huge part of when you get better at this level,” Walton said of his oft-injured player. “And where we’re at now, and not looking like he’s close to being able to play yet, then, it’s almost getting to the point where the true value comes from, ‘Let’s get him as healthy as possible so he has however many months this summer to really expand and keep working on his game.’”
Ball missed 30 games as a rookie because of knee and shoulder injuries. He then had surgery in June to treat a lingering knee injury. It meant a large part of his summer was spent off his feet.
Ball did some light shooting Friday. On previous days he was shooting without jumping, but Ball was pushing off gently.
“It’s the most he’s done from what I’ve seen,” forward Kyle Kuzma said. “He’s shooting more, more ball handling, moving around.”
Walton said Ball will have to be back at practice for at least a week before he talks to him about possibly ending his season.
James, back from his groin injury for five weeks, played only 31 minutes Wednesday in a game that the Denver Nuggets quickly took control of, and Walton said he was watching James’ minutes.
“The conversation, it was pretty open and easy,” Walton said. “A lot of it was done with the trainers and him already by the time me and him sat down to talk. So by the time I talked to him, he was kind of in acceptance of it already, but there’s kind of always the out of ‘it’s not a restriction.’
“If there’s a game we’re going … ‘the minutes might be more of what you’ve been playing all season. But I’m also going to continue to look at monitoring those minutes and taking you out when I feel like we should.’”
Beyond Ball, the Lakers could find themselves more short-handed Saturday against the Boston Celtics. Tyson Chandler is out because of neck stiffness. Kuzma (ankle), Brandon Ingram (shoulder soreness) and Lance Stephenson (toe sprain) are questionable.
When: 5:30 p.m., Saturday
On the air: TV: Ch. 7, Radio: 1330, 710