The Los Angeles Lakers may have topped Anthony Davis and the Pelicans Wednesday night. The defense is still sagging. While the win boosted the record to 30-31 and 3 games out of the No. 8 spot in the Western Conference, Los Angeles still ceded 119 points.
Overall, the Lakers rank No. 23 in NBA scoring defense after allowing 113 points per game. For comparison sake, that’s 4 more points on average than 2017-18.
What’s the difference? No Lonzo Ball. The second-year point guard has sat since Jan. 19, when he suffered an ankle sprain and bone bruise in a 138-134 loss to the Houston Rockets. The initial recovery projection was 4 to 6 weeks, but according to recent reports, Ball might have to wait even longer.
“The Lakers medical staff has determined that while Lonzo Ball continues to make progress towards a return to play,” Lakers beat reporter Mike Trudell stated on social media, “he needs more healing/recovery time due to a bone bruise related to the ankle sprain suffered on Jan. 19. He’s set to be reevaluated by team docs in about a week.”
This report was confirmed by Shams Charania, the senior lead NBA reporter for The Athletic.
Veteran guard Rajon Rondo has shouldered the load at the point in Ball’s absence. He tallied 11 points and 16 assists in the victory over New Orleans. He and reserve guard Josh Hart will see the majority of minutes tonight as the Lakers host the Eastern Conference-leading Milwaukee Bucks (10:30 p.m. ET, ESPN).
The Lakers Have Slumped Without Ball at Point Guard
The No. 2 draft pick in 2017 had been averaging 9.9 points, 5.3 rebounds and 5.4 assists in 30.3 minutes through 47 games this year.
The Lakers are also 5-9 in the 14 games since Ball exited against Houston. That includes single-digit losses to league also-rans in the Atlanta Hawks and Memphis Grizzlies. Ball’s offense could have flipped the script in those two, giving the Lakers a .500 mark over the last month.
While Rondo excelled offensively Wednesday, some analysts have said he was lacking on the other end of the court.
“For all the noise made about how great Rajon Rondo was as the team’s starting point guard on Wednesday night,” Anthony Irwin of Silver Screen and Roll writes, “he was the only starter to hold a negative net rating at game’s end. While his 16 assists to two turnovers is absolutely worthy of praise, a lot of that impact was negated by his defense, as the Lakers were actually 7 points better while Rondo was on the bench. Ball’s return would allow Rondo to play the role he was signed to fill — backup point guard — and help the team in shorter spurts.”
Furthermore, Rondo sat for over a month after a finger injury. He has immediately been thrust into starter minutes, whereas his typical workload has been around 18 to 23 minutes when Ball is healthy. This is a lot to ask from a 33-year old journeyman point guard.
Laker fans miss Ball’s highlight defense, as well, as many have posted social videos.