On Thursday, the Los Angeles Lakers officially wrap up All Star break, open their doors and prepare to address the final 25 games of the season. The Lakers entered All Star break with 23 wins in 57 games, which is only three wins shy of where the team finished for the 2016-17 season.
"Yea, I mean, playing 50-plus games is definitely hard on your body, especially if you haven't really gone through it," Lakers rookie Kyle Kuzma responded when asked if he needed a bit of a break, mentally and physically, after the Rising Stars game at All Star Weekend. "It's really good, not only for me, but for the Lakers in general. I feel we need to cleanse after winning a lot and taking a couple steps back. I think it's a good thing all around."
Kuzma said he would soon be on the beach somewhere, "Chillin'." Based on his social media accounts, the Michigan native and an army of "Kuzmania" t-shirts found time to relax on the sand in Miami.
A season ago, Brandon Ingram needed the All-Star break to provide him a physical break. He took the opportunity to reexamine the season and finished the year on a notably higher note.
"I definitely think it's a good time for a break," Ingram said following his limited minutes outing in the Rising Stars game. "I think everything that I've done over these last couple months and last couple weeks, I think it's a good time to come back and reflect on the first half of the season and come back and try to be better in the second half—even better—and make a bigger push in what we're doing for our organization."
With a full professional season and NBA offseason under his belt, NBCLA.com wondered if Ingram needed this break more on a mental level than a physical level.
"Yes, definitely, mentally more than physically because going through it last year, I know what more to expect now," Ingram confirmed. "Mentally, taking on more responsibility, becoming a leader and just trying to figure out different schemes on how I can be the best player on the floor every single night."
Of course, taking part in All Star weekend for the second year in a row and knowing his eligibility for the Rising Stars game had run out, Ingram eyed the Sunday All Star Game, "That's my next goal, I think, to make it to the All Star Game."
Perhaps, the Lakers' player that benefited from the break more than anyone else was Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball. The 20-year-old no. 2 pick in the 2017 NBA Draft has not played since Jan. 13 and missed 15 straight games leading into the All Star break with a sprained MCL. The chance to heal for an extra 10 days without the pressure of missing practices and games should have come as a welcome relief for the rookie.
When the Lakers open their practice doors on Thursday, one of the first questions will be about Ball's return to practice and availability on Friday. Thursday arrives exactly 40 days since he suffered the injury, which was originally considered a "minor" knee sprain. Effectively, the Lakers gave up Ball for lent.
"Sitting out is not fun, ever," Ball said in a crowded media mixed zone following the Rising Stars game on Friday. Ball did some pregame shooting with Kuzma on the court and watched the exhibition contest from the bench before taking on questions about his music, his brand, his dad, his game and of course, his health.
"I want to get back on the court as soon as possible," Ball said and targeted a return on day no. 41. "I should be back versus Dallas. I'll be ready to work again."
Pressed slightly to clarify his improvement, Ball added, "I can run and jump. Like I said, I can feel (the knee) a little bit, but if it was a playoff game, I could definitely play."
Six days after those comments, the Lakers' have scheduled a practice on Thursday. Friday, the Lakers host Dallas, and anything short of Ball returning to the starting lineup will begin a grand inquisition about the rookie's knee.
Asked how much better he needed to feel before he could return, Ball shut down any thought of him missing added time. In the crowded media mixed zone at STAPLES Center, Ball didn't exactly answer the question but provided the answer nonetheless: "I'm looking forward to playing next game back, so definitely going to be excited for that."