When the Los Angeles Lakers got home from their recent road trip, Luke Walton and veteran point guard Rajon Rondo sat down for a conversation. Rondo says the two talk often, but after losing his starting spot five games ago, this talk was different: Walton was ready to offer Rondo his starting spot back.
“We brought him in as a championship point guard, and we need to start winning games,” Walton told reporters of his decision to start Rondo on Wednesday night. “He’s someone that I feel totally confident with giving that opportunity to help lead us.”
Walton’s confidence was rewarded with the best game Rondo has played in weeks, an 11-point, 16-assist double-double that helped drive the Lakers to a 125-119 victory over the New Orleans Pelicans in what was essentially a must-win game.
Rondo said that the offensive end wasn’t where he was focused, however, noting that he wanted to “set the tone” for the Lakers by playing tough defense on Jrue Holiday, and deadpanning that he only scored in double figures because he “played a lot of minutes.”
Still, his teammates appreciated the impact Rondo made on the Lakers’ offense, especially the way he helped keep the team’s turnovers to just 8 (against 34 assists) after they had coughed up the ball 19 times per game since returning from the NBA All-Star break.
“He’s a natural point guard, a natural ball-handler, and he definitely helped that cause,” said Lakers forward LeBron James. “His mind is incredible. High IQ, and when you add another one to the starting lineup it just helps everybody out.
“With his rebounding and his ability to get guys involved throughout the whole game with 16 assists, (he) was just huge for us tonight.”
Lakers forward Brandon Ingram agreed.
“He was the head of what we did tonight,” Ingram said.
It was exactly the type of impact Walton was hoping for after what he called “an honest conversation that was healthy and positive” with Rondo, who he also noted hadn’t complained about his reduced role, even if Walton knows he wants to play more.
Rondo got the opportunity he was looking for, and even though the results of the new look starters were mixed, Rondo individually delivered. It’s not certain whether or not he’ll remain a starter, or if this is evidence he’s turned a corner, but Walton has faith in the veteran point guard and thinks he’s going to be a big part of the Lakers’ playoff push.
“I’m very confident in what Rondo has done in this league,” Walton said. “He struggled a little bit but some of that is on me. His minutes have been down too, and we’ve been trying to find different groups to work, and he’s proven that over his career that when he gets an opportunity he shows up to play.”
Rondo lived up to that reputation on Wednesday, and if he keeps doing so moving forward, the Lakers may just yet be able to figure out a way to sneak into the postseason.
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