In the Lakers’ search for a starting lineup that worked in recent weeks, Rajon Rondo became the odd man out.
Wednesday night, that changed.
“I’ve been there before,” Rondo said. “Whatever’s better for the team. LeBron [James] was [playing] point at the time and you know they brought me here to make their job a lot easier. [Coach Luke Walton] put me back in the lineup and that’s what I tried to do tonight.”
Rondo started in the Lakers’ 125-119 win over the New Orleans Pelicans, the team Rondo played for last season. His 16 assists served as a reminder of how he can help facilitate the Lakers’ offense, and he might have had something to do with how well the Lakers took care of the ball — they committed only eight turnovers, tying a season low.
“First of all his mind is incredible,” James said. “High IQ. When you add another mind to the starting lineup it helps everybody out. Obviously with his rebounding and his ability to get guys involved throughout the whole game was just huge for us. Huge for us all night.”
When he returned from his most recent hand surgery, Rondo filled right back into the Lakers’ starting lineup, taking the place of Lonzo Ball, who is still out with a severe ankle injury. Rondo started in the next seven games, a sequence punctuated by a game in Boston where he scored 17 points and made the game-winning shot.
That was the last game Rondo started.
Walton switched his lineup to include a recent addition, Reggie Bullock, among the starters. Officially, they started Brandon Ingram at point guard, but unofficially it was James who handled a lot of the Lakers’ point guard duties.
Coming off the bench for the next five games, Rondo only reached double-digit points once and never had double-digit assists or rebounds.
The Lakers, too, were struggling. After losses to Memphis and New Orleans on the road, Walton checked in with Rondo.
“Me and him had a long talk after we got back from the road trip and that was the decision,” Walton said. “We brought him in as a championship point guard. We need to start winning games and he’s someone I feel totally confident with giving that opportunity to help lead us.”
Said Rondo: “He asked me if I wanted to start again, so I felt I take pride in defense. I wanted the [Jrue] Holiday matchup tonight and help set the tone. Like I said it all starts with defense and we were able to get out and feed off of that.”
Ball gets evaluated
Ball will be out for at least another week because of his ankle injury, the Lakers announced. The team acknowledged Ball’s bone bruise in a news release Thursday afternoon and said the injury will add to Ball’s recovery time.
Ball used crutches for about a week and wore a protective boot for a few more days.
His initial timetable was said to be four to six weeks, but the Lakers discovered a bone bruise in his ankle two weeks ago during his recovery process. Ball has made progress since then.
On Wednesday during the game against the Pelicans, Ball sat on the bench, which he rarely has done for home games since his injury. He was also spotted at the Lakers’ shootaround Wednesday morning, though he didn’t participate in the session.
The Lakers defense, one of the best in the NBA for a part of this season, has suffered without Ball.
Ball entered the season hoping to play in all 82 games after missing 30 during his rookie season because of a shoulder sprain and a knee injury. Last summer, Ball had surgery on his knee, which limited the offseason work he was able to do.
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday
On Air: Spectrum SportsNet, ESPN; Radio: 710, 1330
Update: The Bucks (47-14) arrive at Staples Center with the best record in the NBA, having won six in a row and nine of their last 10 games after a 141-140 overtime defeat of the Kings in Sacramento on Wednesday. Milwaukee also has the best road record in the league at 22-9.
Follow Tania Ganguli on Twitter @taniaganguli