Lakers shoot for stars while young core looks to brighten

EL SEGUNDO — Perhaps no one was more candid during exit interviews Thursday about their feelings on a star-level free agent joining the Los Angeles Lakers this summer than rookie Josh Hart. 

When asked if, as a member of the team’s young core, he’s excited about the mere possibility of a max-level player coming to L.A., he said he “definitely” was. But in almost the same  breath, he offered something of a caveat. 

“If that that happens, I think it could be nothing but great for this team and for this franchise,” Hart said. “But our job as players is to work like we’re not going to, to work as if nobody’s gonna come here in free agency, and to work as hard as you can to get to that next level. I think that’s the biggest thing.”

In his 170-word answer, Hart provided a glimpse into the mindset of himself, Kyle Kuzma, Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram when it comes to their future roles for the Lakers. And looking more closely at how those three players developed during the season, that mindset is hidden in plain sight. 

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Ball returns, Randle gets fifth triple-double as Lakers blow out Mavericks

LOS ANGELES — After practice on Thursday, Lakers guard Isaiah Thomas had a simple response when asked what his personal goal was for the 25 games that remained after the All-Star break.

“Win,” Thomas said.

The Lakers made good on that goal at least for one night with Friday’s 124-102 blowout win over the Dallas Mavericks at Staples Center.

Julius Randle led the Lakers with a triple-double of 18 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists, while Kentavious Caldwell-Pope added 15 and six rebounds, and Lonzo Ball had nine points, seven rebounds and six assists in his first game back after missing the last 15 with a sprained left MCL.

The Lakers held the Mavericks to just 40.7% shooting overall on what was all-around defensive effort. Los Angeles also outrebounded Dallas 61-29.

“I thought the way we were locked in and following the scouting report and the game plan was really much better tonight than it was pre-All-Star break,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said of the defensive effort.

When he entered the game in the fourth quarter, Randle knew that he was only two assists away from his fifth-career triple-double. His pass to Kuzma was accurate, but Kuzma missed a dunk, much to the chagrin of Randle.

“I threw it to Kuz, a dime, and he thought he was Dr. J and tried to go on the other side,” Randle said. “It didn’t work out. But he made up for it. He made the 3, so it’s cool.”

Thomas scored 17 points and added four assists off the bench. Kuzma caught fire in the fourth quarter and finished the game with 12 points.

Randle recorded his 10th assist and secured the triple-double after passing out of a double team to Brandon Ingram, who made a 3-pointer to give the Lakers a 117-94 lead midway through the fourth quarter. The Lakers led by as 23.

After a pair of three pointers by the Mavericks caused the Lakers to take an early timeout just 50 seconds into the third quarter, Los Angeles responded with a run that included Caldwell-Pope making two 3-pointers and Randle giving the Lakers a 80-58 with less than six minutes to play in the third quarter.

Dallas started the second quarter with an 11-2 run to close within eight. Ball made two consecutive 3-pointers to give Los Angeles a 42-29 lead with 8:17 remaining in the first half.

The Lakers went on an 8-0 run to regain their 18-point lead. They extended it to 22 just before the half ended and took a 63-41 lead.

Ball returned after missing the last six weeks with a left MCL injury, and said he felt good while doing it. He played 17 minutes, which Walton said was a couple minutes off his restriction.

“I’m just happy to be back,” Ball said. “I’m glad to get back on the court.”

Ball said his timing was off a little bit, and he felt his knee while sliding to the right, but was not restricted. He will not play Saturday in Sacramento.

Kuzma appeared in a Yahoo Sports report detailing the names of several current and former college athletes who allegedly took payments while in school from former NBA agent Andy Miller and his agency, ASM Sports.

Kuzma accepted “at least $9,500” while in school at Utah University, according to documents detailed in the report. His name showed up in expense reports from Christian Dawkins, a former associate of Miller who was arrested in late September and faces felony charges in two criminal cases tied to the federal investigation into potential NCAA violations.

Before Friday’s game against the Dallas Mavericks, Kuzma declined to comment, stating that it was a legal matter. He neither confirmed nor denied whether the report was true. He said he and his team are trying to gather all the relevant information.

Asked if he was concerned about the matter, Kuzma replied, “Nothing. Not at all.”

Student-athletes are prohibited by the NCAA to receive additional compensation or benefits while in school because they are considered amateurs, not professionals. Kuzma advocates payment for athletes, and has been vocal on social media about his views regarding the issue.

Mavericks: Play the Utah Jazz on the road today on the second night of a back-to-back.

Lakers: Travel to Sacramento to play the Kings today on the second night of a back-to-back.

Ball wants to play vs. Mavericks, team noncommittal

EL SEGUNDO — Lonzo Ball said if it were his decision, he would play in tonight’s game against the Dallas Mavericks.

But Los Angeles Lakers coach Luke Walton was not so definitive in Ball’s status. He said the training staff will make the decision tomorrow regarding whether or not Ball will play after missing the last 15 games with a left MCL sprain.

“He practiced in full (Thursday),” Walton said after practice. “We’ll have to see how he responds, how he feels. But he looked good (Thursday). It was nice having him on the court.”

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Thomas, Frye look to mentor young Lakers

EL SEGUNDO – Isaiah Thomas may have been traded to a Los Angeles Lakers team that is nine games under .500 and not in immediate position to make the playoffs. But he has other ideas.

“All I know is win,” Thomas said after Monday’s practice. “All I know is how to play to win, and I’m going to try to instill that into these young guys and just give it all you got, leave it all out on the floor and have fun doing it. … It’s time to win now. Why wait? We wanna win now and we wanna have fun doing it.”

Thomas is a seven-year veteran in the NBA. President of Basketball Operations Magic Johnson said recently that he expects Thomas to be a mentor for rookie Lonzo Ball.

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Lakers lose ninth straight

LOS ANGELES — Lonzo Ball returned for the Los Angeles Lakers on Friday night, but the losing didn’t go anywhere.

The Lakers (11-27) lost their ninth straight game, falling to the Hornets 108-94, behind a performance that saw them turn the ball over 16 times. The Hornets (15-23) made the most of those opportunities, scoring 24 points off Lakers’ miscues.

Charlotte had 15 turnovers of its own, but the Lakers only scored nine points off them.

Ball played well in his return from a shoulder injury, scoring 11 points and adding five assists and four rebounds in 27 minutes. The pace he brings to the team seemed to return in the early moments of the game, but the Lakers finished with only nine fast-break points to Charlotte’s 24.

But Ball didn’t seem to satisfied with the pace of the game.

“It wasn’t too good,” Ball said. “We didn’t win.”

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PG Ball out for tonight’s game

LOS ANGELES — Lonzo Ball will miss today’s Christmas Day game after an MRI revealed a sprain in his left shoulder, the Los Angeles Lakers announced Sunday. He will be re-evaluated in one week.

Ball suffered the injury in the first half of Saturday’s 95-92 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers. He left the game briefly in the second quarter, but was available to return and played in the second half.

“I’m not really sure what happened,” Ball said of the injury after Saturday’s game. “Definitely felt it, like, pop kind of. But I’ll just ice it. I’ll be ready to go on Christmas.”

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Lakers’ vets helping rookies with grind

When Lonzo Ball played at UCLA last year, he never felt much need to prioritize taking care of his body. With one or two games a week, there was plenty of time for him to rest while preparing for the next opponent.

But since he started playing in the NBA with the Los Angeles Lakers, Ball has changed his tune. The veterans on the team have taught him certain ways to take care of himself, one of which involves taking frequent ice baths.

So far, Ball has taken the advice to heart.

“At UCLA, if I really needed one, then I’d take it,” Ball said recently. “But here, I don’t go two days without taking it.”

With the Lakers a quarter of the way through the season and in the midst of a four-game East Coast road trip that spans two weeks, the team’s rookies are finding out exactly what life is like in the NBA. And the elder statesmen are guiding them through it.

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