After nearly a full week off for the NBA All-Star break, the Los Angeles Lakers were back on the practice floor on Wednesday. Kobe Bryant, who was the star of this past weekend’s festivities in Toronto did not practice, but the remainder of the squad was gearing up for their next matchup against the San Antonio Spurs on Friday.
Lakers general manager Mitch Kupchak spoke with a few of the Lakers young players this morning, stressing to them, the importance of finishing out the season strong.
“We want to see them in the face of this adversity,” Kupchak said of the young players on Wednesday. “To show some mental toughness, push through it, show me your best, so it helps us during the off-season when it comes time to evaluating our needs.”
The young core of D’Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson and Julius Randle were all upbeat about their goals for the final 27 games of the season. Clarkson stressed that his main focus for the next couple months is going to be to improve his defense, rebounding and making his teammates better.
Randle currently sits first among sophomore players in double-doubles with 21 and is one of only 15 players in the NBA with 20+ point/rebound double-doubles this season. Refreshed after the All-Star break, though he feels he should have been chosen in the Rising Stars squad, Randle is feeling “extremely motivated,” to finish the season.
“That’s what it’s all about, finishing on a high note,” Randle said Wednesday. “It may not be this year, but building something heading into next year.”
“I don’t want to leave and feel like I went backwards,” Russell said about how he wants to finish the season. “I want to keep the ego and the whole vibe around here like it’s not over. I feel like we can sneak some wins and go out with a positive vibe.”
Head coach Byron Scott has also said that he will insert Russell back into the starting lineup at some point in the latter half of the season, but don’t expect changes to be made before Friday’s game vs. San Antonio. Russell reiterated on Wednesday that he does not care whether or not he starts, his concern lies more in having a clear understanding of his role.
On the injury front, both Larry Nance Jr. (sore right knee) and Anthony Brown (sprained right ankle) were able to participate in the majority of today’s practice. If Nance does get cleared for Friday’s game, however, expect him to come off the bench.
The NBA trade deadline is right around the corner, but general manager Mitch Kupchak does not expect the Lakers to make any moves.