With Larry Nance Jr. sidelined by a bone bruise on his left knee, it would be reasonable to expect the Lakers to miss his trademark high-energy play.
But the combination of Tarik Black and Thomas Robinson might help alleviate that considering how well they played together in Sunday’s loss to the Toronto Raptors.
“They brought us an energy and toughness that we lack a lot of the time on the defensive end,” head coach Luke Walton said at Monday’s practice. “So it was nice to have them out there fighting and battling and watching the other team get mad at each other for not matching that level of intensity.”
The result was some big numbers in small minutes.
Both players narrowly missed out on a double double, as Robinson had 12 points and nine rebounds while Black tallied nine points and nine rebounds in 31 combined minutes.
“It’s kind of similar to what me and Larry Nance did,” Black said. “Larry Nance got a lot of highlight dunks and tip dunks because guys are trying to box me out, and vice versa. … T-Rob’s super tenacious on the boards so it works out.”
Walton admitted that it’s been a tiny sample size — they only played 25 minutes together prior to Sunday — but that can also be an advantage, as Black pointed out that opponents haven’t been able to scout for the tandem yet.
Walton expects that the two former Kansas Jayhawks will get “a good amount of minutes” in Tuesday’s matchup with the Memphis Grizzlies, who boast a physical frontcourt starring Marc Gasol and Zach Randolph.
The move will certainly help on the glass, as the duo combined for 10 offensive rebounds on Sunday.
“(Black) goes hard like I do every possession,” Robinson said. “He gives me the comfortability of knowing that I got somebody that’s gonna go hard with me playing out there.”
Since returning from injury early December, D’Angelo Russell hadn’t scored to his capabilities, averaging just 12.6 points on 35.8 percent shooting.
But, after dropping 28 points with six 3-pointers against the Raptors, Russell had his head coach pleased with his production.
“I think he’s slowly been getting there, and I think last night was big for him,” Walton said. “That’s one of the best defenses in the league and he was able to get down there, make layups, play-make from there, get them off. They had to change their coverage on him two or three times that game.”
Walton has been encouraged by the way that Russell has attacked the paint in practice, saying that having the willingness to do so is a good sign post-injury.
He has also consistently been complimentary of Russell’s play despite his shooting struggles over the past three weeks.
“I think over the past few weeks — even though he hasn’t been shooting the ball great — that the way he’s been playing over the past couple weeks has gotten better and better,” Walton said. “I thought last night it was good to see him play with aggression on offense.
“He’s a dynamic scorer and obviously seeing the ball go through the net helps.”