After a stretch of four games where he didn’t play to expectations, Josh Hart had a bit of a breakout performance against the Indiana Pacers. He scored 13 points, reaching double-figures for the first time since Nov. 17, and did so on efficient 6-for-7 shooting.
Hart’s overall impact and activity extended to the defensive end as well. He had just one rebound and two assists but added a season-high tying three steals, which he’s now done three times thus far in the 2018-19 campaign.
“I thought Josh Hart was an incredible spark off the bench,” Lakers head coach Luke Walton said after his team’s win.
More encouraging, however, was Hart moved without any limitations. It was a welcomed change since he suffered what was called an sprained ankle during the Nov. 21 game against the Cleveland Cavaliers, which was diagnosed the following day as a strained ankle tendon.
“The ankle felt good. It was a good test running around with Bogdanovic and Doug, so it was a good test,” Hart said. “Felt good, felt encouraging.”
Walton noted Hart appeared limited in two games after the initial injury, both of which were losses for the Lakers. Dealing with residual pain, there was some discussion of potentially holding the second-year player out.
Hart wound up playing against the Nuggets but had just 4 points, 2 rebounds and 3 assists in 21 minutes. “If I’m out there, I’ve got to help this team,” Hart said Thursday. “If I can’t play how I normally play, with the intensity and attitude that I normally play with, then I’ve got to sit down.
“Because if I don’t do that, I’m only hurting the team. Some days I probably could’ve rested and let other guys fill that position but I’m moving on. I feel good.”
Hart not only looked to be back to his usual self, he was on the floor down the stretch of the fourth quarter as the Lakers held off a Pacers’ comeback attempt. “We got good stops and we were able to execute on the offensive end,” he said.
“We’ve got the best player to put on a jersey on our team. He helps us out a lot. But we were able to get stops and turn those into buckets. That was the biggest thing.”
Next for the Lakers is a matchup with the Dallas Mavericks on Friday night. “Every team has back-to-backs. There’s no excuses,” Hart said. “We’ve got to come out defensively with intensity and when that second lineup gets in, we’ve got to come with energy.”