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Newsletter: How Rajon Rondo lifts the Lakers, and how they’re trying to return the favor

Lakers guard Alex Caruso (4) and Rajon Rondo (9) congratulate one another after beating Denver in Game 4.
Lakers guard Alex Caruso (4) and Rajon Rondo (9) congratulate one another after beating Denver in Game 4 on Thursday.
(Mark J. Terrill / Associated Press)

Hi, this is Tania Ganguli, Lakers beat writer for the Los Angeles Times, here with your Lakers newsletter.

The Lakers are one win away from the NBA Finals after a long and grueling road there.

Should both the Eastern and Western Conference finals conclude in six or fewer games, the championship series will begin on Sept. 30 and finish in October — a time of year typically reserved for training camps. In fact, if the Lakers make the Finals and the best-of-seven series goes more than four games, the Lakers will be playing after the one-year anniversary of their flight to China for training camp and exhibition games.

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That means their 2019-20 session will officially be more than a calendar year long.

We’ll review how the Lakers got to this point below, and we have so much coverage from the games. But first I wanted to start with a word about Rajon Rondo.

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Rallying with Rondo

Ever since Rondo returned to the Lakers after rehabbing from thumb surgery outside the bubble, he’s made a big impact.

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He had 11 points with seven assists against the Denver Nuggets in Game 4 on Thursday night, which is on par with his nightly contributions. He nabbed a critical offensive rebound that helped the Lakers hold off the plucky Nuggets. Of course, in Game 2, Rondo delivered the pass that led to Anthony Davis’ game-winner. Davis said after the game that as soon as he was traded to the Lakers, he called Rondo to ask him to re-sign with the team.

“Rondo is always in my ear about being the best defensive player on the floor, best offensive player on the floor, even when it doesn’t seem possible, he might tell me, I need to go block a shot or close out to a guy, and then swing it across the floor, I need to be there, too.

“I say, ‘Do, that’s impossible.’ He’s like, ‘I don’t care, at the end of the day, you should be able to do it.’ He always put pressure on me to do the impossible things.”

It’s a great motivating factor for Davis, who enjoys getting a push. Rondo helps his teammates in ways like that, but this week they’ve worked to give him what he needs in a different way. It’s been a difficult week, and a difficult few months for Rondo.

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Rondo is from Louisville, Ky., where Breonna Taylor, a 26-year-old emergency medical technician, was shot to death by police in her home as they executed a no-knock warrant — the kind the city banned after Taylor’s death. Rondo has kept a close eye on the case from the NBA bubble near Orlando, Fla. He was active in the discussions during the first round of the playoffs when players talked about whether they should continue playing. Rondo did consider going home.

On Wednesday, a grand jury chose to indict one officer involved in the shooting, but only for shooting into a neighbor’s walls. There were no indictments made for shooting Taylor.

“He doesn’t say much about it, but we feel his pain as well,” said Davis, who played college basketball in Kentucky. “Justice wasn’t served in a lot of people’s eyes. … But we are here for Rondo. We told him anything he needs from us, we have his back no matter what it is. It’s an emotional situation and you know, while we’re here fighting for a championship, there’s a lot of stuff going on in the real world and we want to also be mindful of that. ...

“It’s tough for all of us to come out and play and for him to come out and play, especially the way he played tonight with everything going on in his backyard. His family is there, so he told me yesterday that they was already like burning things down and stuff like that. Like I said, his family is there, and anything we can do to help him, kind of just keep fighting, we’re going to do it.”

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Since we last spoke ...

  • Something very strange happened to start the Western Conference finals. The Lakers won a Game 1! How did this strange phenomenon occur?
  • After serving as spectators for the second-round series against the Houston Rockets, the Lakers’ centers, JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard, got back in the thick of things against the Nuggets, who do have real centers.
  • Some players have their kids in the bubble now. Our Dan Woike takes a look at the very cute phenomenon focusing on Jared Dudley’s young son, Juju, who’s getting some practice in with Dion Waiters’ son (the trash-talking Lil’ Cheese).
  • The Lakers delivered a little playoff magic in Game 2. I wrote about what that meant for Davis’ development. My colleague Broderick Turner wrote about how the last 20.8 seconds of the game unfolded.
  • And our Bill Plaschke detailed the connection Davis felt with Kobe Bryant after making the game-winner. “Count your goose bumps. Sink into your memories. Say good-bye to the overmatched Nuggets, who now trail two games to none after blowing probably their best chance for an upset. It wasn’t just a shot, it was a dagger, and goodness, how Kobe would have loved it.”
  • The only downside? They weren’t at Staples Center for a moment like that.
  • Nuggets guard Jamal Murray has been brilliant in this series. On Tuesday night in Game 3, he was brilliant enough to stave off a Lakers rally and get a win for the Nuggets.
  • James wasn’t getting to the free-throw line very much for the start of the series, and the Lakers decided to share their displeasure with the NBA. It worked! After shooting a total of six free throws in Games 2 and 3, he shot 14 in Game 4.
  • Our LZ Granderson noted a very critical scene — Rondo’s reaction after he passed the ball the Davis for the game-winner in Game 2. He makes a case for Rondo as a Hall of Famer.
  • In Game 4, LeBron James wasn’t about to let Murray take over again. So he let his team know he’d take that assignment and his defense helped the Lakers take a 3-1 series lead. Please reserve your jokes about how the Nuggets have the Lakers right where they want ‘em (though our headline couldn’t resist).
  • Dwight Howard got the start — his first since 2017. His early exploits in that game were critical for the Lakers.
  • The Nuggets are summoning the memories of their last two series, which they won when trailing 3-1, in order to remain mentally locked into this one. “We believe,” Nuggets guard Monte Morris said.

Until next time...

As always, pass along your thoughts to me at tania.ganguli@latimes.com, and please consider subscribing if you like our work!


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