LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — Los Angeles Lakers coach Frank Vogel stuck by veteran point guard Rajon Rondo after L.A.’s 112-97 Game 1 loss to the Houston Rockets in the Western Conference semifinals on Friday.
“Rajon is one of the smartest players in the league, and obviously our guys’ IQ raises when he’s on the court, so he’s definitely going to help us this series,” Vogel said.
Rondo had 8 points, 4 assists, 3 rebounds, 2 steals and a block against Houston, appearing in his first game since before the NBA went on hiatus because of the coronavirus pandemic in March.
He had been out on the lineup after he underwent surgery to repair a fractured right thumb in early July and then was sidelined again when back spasms struck shortly before Game 4 of the Lakers’ first-round series against the Portland Trail Blazers a week and a half ago.
While Rondo’s output on Friday was in range of his regular-season averages of 7.1 points, five assists and three rebounds, the Lakers struggled when he was on the floor.
L.A. was outscored by 10 points in the 25 minutes Rondo played, as he shot 3-for-9 from the field and had four turnovers.
The loss, which really got away from the Lakers when Houston opened up the fourth quarter on a 12-3 run against a lineup of LeBron James, Dwight Howard, Kyle Kuzma, Markieff Morris and Rondo that Vogel had never tried out at any other point this season, snapped L.A.’s four-game winning streak.
“It is a challenge working in a new player at this stage in the playoffs,” Vogel said. “It’s always a little bit different when you work somebody in at this stage.”
“He’s a great player and a very cerebral player, so he knows the game very well,” Davis said. “I don’t think it’ll take that much time to get him back acclimated with the team. He made some shots today, made some good plays for us.
“Game conditioning is tough and when you haven’t played, and then your first game is in the Western semis. We’ll get him back acclimated with the team and just try to play from there.”
Rondo was Vogel’s first guard off the bench in Game 1, subbing in for James with 4:52 remaining in the first quarter and L.A. up 16-15. It was an inauspicious debut, with Rondo missing a 17-footer and then throwing the ball out of bounds on the first two possessions.
When the Rockets went on their run to start the fourth quarter, Rondo was 1-for-3 with a steal and a turnover, before being subbed out for Kuzma with 9:07 remaining.
Rondo did not speak to reporters after the game. Davis, however, was adamant about how having Rondo back is a boost for the team.
“Good for us because it kind of gives Bron a break,” Davis said. “He’s trying to make plays for others, be in attack mode. So it gives Bron, it gives him a break with Rondo on the floor, let Bron kind of be that guy who can catch it and work on attacking. And Rondo’s able to get into the paint and make plays in response, so it’s beneficial to us to have him on the floor.
“But it’s just getting him back, acclimated to the team, and get his conditioning back to where it is.”