SACRAMENTO, Calif. — With LeBron James and Rajon Rondo sidelined for Thursday’s game against the Sacramento Kings — and possibly for more games in the near future — Brandon Ingram says it’s time for him to resume the type of role he played last season for the Los Angeles Lakers.
“It’s an opportunity,” Ingram said after shootaround Thursday, leading up to the game against the Kings. “It’s an opportunity for me to go out there and play my game a little bit more. I think I’m going to be a little bit more ball-dominant, cutting off the basketball. I have to play even better defense and be on the help side on the defensive end. So it’s a chance for me to just up my game a little bit.”
Ingram, 21, is averaging 15.5 points, 4 rebounds and 2.2 assists in the 23 games he has played this season. He missed 11 games because of a sprained ankle and the suspension he served for his role in a melee versus the Houston Rockets.
Last season, as a second-year player, he averaged 16.1 points, 5.3 rebounds and 3.9 assists while shooting 39 percent from 3-point range, compared to just 31 percent from 3 this season.
Yet last season the Lakers didn’t win their 20th game until Feb. 2. This season, they secured it Christmas Day with a rousing 127-101 victory over the Golden State Warriors. That is to say, if Ingram’s personal stats have suffered at all, it has come in the service of winning games.
James has a strained groin and Rondo has a sprained right ring finger. Lakers coach Luke Walton said he was interested to see who steps up to lift the Lakers’ spirits with two of their most vocal leaders away from the team, staying in Los Angeles to rehab their injuries.
“The trap is to try to fill those gaps by trying to do more individually,” Walton said. “And the way we have to fill those gaps is continue to play unselfishly and continue to trust the pass, continue to trust your teammate. Brandon’s going to get back to playing a lot more of that point guard position like he did last year and a little earlier this season. But we need everybody to continue to play the way that we’ve been preaching all year.”
It is unknown for how long the Lakers will be short-handed. ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski and Brian Windhorst reported Thursday that L.A. is preparing to be without James for several games. As for Rondo, Walton said it will come down to pain tolerance.
“It all depends on how he can handle that pain,” Walton said. “So we’re kind of just taking it day by day right now to see where he wants to go with it, see how bad that hand is hurting. But he could be out for a while or he could be out for a couple days. It all just depends.”
The Lakers could get center JaVale McGee back Thursday. He missed the past five games with a respiratory infection and flu-like symptoms that resulted in brief bout of pneumonia. He made the trip to Sacramento, participated in some of shootaround and is officially listed as questionable for the game, but Walton said “probably not” when asked if McGee would play.
That leaves others like Ingram and Josh Hart, who will start in James’ place against the Kings, to pick up the slack.
“I think it’s just like our team from last year,” Ingram said. “We just have a lot of young guys that’s grown in this league, I think. We’re a year older now so we’ve seen some things and we’ve experienced some things, so we just go out here and play our basketball games. We know what to do and we’ve seen a lot of things so we just continue to push it to the edge.”
It could be a defining moment in the Lakers’ season, should they stay afloat in James’ absence.
“The way we look at it, it’s every game’s the same, it’s us getting better and us trying to win our games,” Walton said. “So this stretch is going to be really important to us. But as far as this specific game, no. But this stretch of games coming up, yeah, this is a big stretch for us, for sure.”