OKLAHOMA CITY — Luke Walton was looking for a way to jump-start Brandon Ingram‘s game.
Specifically, the Los Angeles Lakers coach wanted to see Ingram get back to attacking and being more aggressive. So Walton presented Ingram with the opportunity to start at point guard against the Brooklyn Nets on Friday night.
Ingram accepted and responded with one of his best all-around games of the season, posting 16 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds and turning the ball over only two times in 37 minutes during a 102-99 win in Brooklyn.
The only downside to Ingram’s night was the tightness he felt in his sore right groin. Ingram, though, is expected to start at point guard again on Sunday at Oklahoma City, a game in which he was initially listed as questionable.
With Lonzo Ball nursing a sprained MCL that will sideline him for a 10th straight game, the Lakers need Ingram. He is one of the few playmakers they have who can create scoring opportunities for himself and for teammates with his ability to attack the rim.
In two previous meetings against the Thunder, the Lakers were completely outclassed with Ball in street clothes, losing by 37 and 24 points, respectively. Sunday could be another Thunder rout, especially if Ingram can’t play.
An aggressive Ingram was on display in Brooklyn, driving and dunking while spreading the ball around. The soft-spoken Ingram felt that playing point guard unlocked some of his aggression.
“[Walton] just wanted me to be aggressive,” Ingram said. “Get in the lane and make plays for myself and make plays for my teammates. I just try to do the best job of pushing the pace tonight and making sure guys were happy with their shots. … Just taking on the opportunity. … [Playing point] just puts the ball in my hand a lot more. Gives me a chance to attack the basket, get to my spots, get other people involved. Just being involved more.”
In early January, Ingram had a four-game stretch in which he played like the aggressive scoring forward team president Magic Johnson envisioned. He averaged 20.8 points, 5.8 rebounds and 4.3 assists and shot 33-for-55 (55.6 percent) from the field, including 7-for-11 from behind the 3-point arc from Jan. 5-11.
But just as Ingram got cooking, he sprained an ankle after posting four points, six rebounds and five assists in his first 14 minutes at Dallas on Jan. 13.
That knocked Ingram out for a game. He returned one game later against the Thunder and tweaked his ankle again before finishing with eight points and one rebound in 26 minutes in a 114-90 loss at Oklahoma City. Ingram sat out the next game because of the injury. Ingram has played in the Lakers’ past five games, but Walton wants to get him in a better and more aggressive rhythm.
“We needed to get him more aggressive,” Walton said. “Since he’s come back from his ankle injury, we haven’t really had the consistent play from him we’ve been getting before that. And we wanted to get him to be more engaged in what we’re doing. And put more pressure on the other team’s defense, so our thought process was we do think he’s capable of running the point. Two, let’s proactively force him to be as engaged as possible. I thought the difference between this time and when we played him at point [before] was this time he pushed the ball. Last time he was trying to be more of a traditional [point guard] and call plays.
“Tonight it was more just ‘get me the ball, I’m going to fly up the court and play basketball,’ and it really allowed him to do what we’ve said he does best, and that’s make decisions as they come. Not predetermine if he’s going to shoot, not predetermine if he’s going to pass. Just see what the defense is doing and make reads.”
Walton hopes to have Ingram pushing as much as possible to spark the Lakers in transition and perhaps spark his own game as well.
“I think before at times, I was reserved a little bit trying to get my teammates involved,” Ingram said. “Just tried to be the aggressor tonight and get my teammates involved and get myself involved in the offense.”