Mike Bresnahan: Tough Times

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Rough day for the Lakers last Saturday.

Brandon Ingram was diagnosed with a blood clot in his right arm. Lonzo Ball was declared out at least two more weeks — or longer, if various reports are accurate. Boston beat the Lakers by 13 at Staples Center, bringing the Lakers’ losing streak to a season-high five games.

Tough times indeed.

The Ingram development was by far the most serious. Blood clots are potentially life-threatening in the lungs, which they aren’t in his case. A round of blood-thinners is surely on the way for him, along with extreme caution over a period to be measured in months, not weeks or days. If he does something as small as cut himself shaving, there can be excessive blood loss while on thinners. Basketball is out of the question for the near term.

The Lakers as a team are their own story of struggle, merely a week or two away from officially being eliminated from playoff possibilities. The game against Boston was just the latest misstep for a decimated team that now relies heavily on two players with two-way contracts and the seldom-used 25th pick in last year’s draft.

Then there’s the Ball story, understandably lost in the shuffle over the weekend. Several media outlets declared him done for the season, unable to recover from a sprained ankle.

Ball hasn’t played since Jan. 19, when he tweaked the ankle while driving down the left side against Houston. The Lakers were up 15 in the third quarter. A playoff spot was likely back then, the Lakers not quite shoo-in status but in a comfortable place.

The initial recovery timetable was four to six weeks. He’s been sidelined more than seven thanks to a bone bruise that accompanied the sprain.

As if to further the agony, he was playing solid basketball when he was injured.

His defense was getting acclaim from opponents. He smoothly picked up point guards after made baskets and pressured them the length of the court. He switched easily onto big men in screen-and-roll defense. His hand-reaction time was quick, allowing him to create deflections and a team-high 1.5 steals a game.

His offense, often a work in progress, was coming around. He was on a his way to a third consecutive impressive stat line when he went down, having averaged 19.5 points, nine assists and seven rebounds in his previous two games (against the Clippers and Sacramento).

The question now is simple: Can he stay healthy an entire NBA season?

Ball, 21, played only 52 games as a rookie because of a sprained shoulder and two different knee issues, including a sprained MCL. He was sidelined almost the entire off-season after a PRP injection in the knee and eventually surgery to remove some cartilage.

He played 47 games this season until he was injured. Notably, he left a game against Denver in November after spraining his ankle and returned the very next game. Maybe the injury concerns were behind him.

But the Houston game might have been it for his season. Last Friday, Lakers Coach Luke Walton suggested Ball was done.

“Lonzo hasn't had himself an off-season yet as far as development, which is a huge part of when you get better at this level,” Walton said. “Where we're at now [in the standings], and it not looking like he's close to being able to play yet, it's almost getting to the point where the true value comes from let's get him as healthy as possible so he has however many months this summer to really expand and keep working on his game.”

If Ball doesn't make it back before the April 9 finale, there's an obvious off-season list of improvements.

He shot only 32.9% from three-point range, a mild bump from his rookie season but still below where he should be on a team desperately seeking shooters. He was a stunningly low 41.7% from the free-throw line.

The biggest area that counts for Ball, however, is simply staying on the court. It's imperative for someone who has likely played only 99 of a potential 164 games in his NBA career.