LOS ANGELES – In more than two years as a Laker, things had never been going better for Larry Nance Jr. He won a starting job in training camp, had embraced and thrived in Coach Luke Walton’s system and had begun to show he may have a future beyond an NBA glue guy.
Then he bit on a pump fake and all of that was put on hold.
“It was one of those immediate (things),” Nance said. “I knew what happened.”
What happened was that in the third quarter of Thursday’s loss in Portland, Caleb Swanigan got Nance off his feet. When the Portland forward rose to shoot, Nance was coming down and the third-year Laker’s left hand was sandwiched between the two forces.
Nance underwent surgery the next day to repair a fractured bone in his left hand and is expected to be out 4-6 weeks. Speaking to reporters for the first time since the injury, Nance on Sunday said he was “frustrated” and called the injury “one of those bum-luck type deals.”
And the timing, he acknowledged, made it tougher.
“I was given a really good chance,” he said, “was making the most of it. So I’m just anxious to get back and keep making a good impression.”
Nance was averaging 10.6 points and 7.4 rebounds in 23.1 minutes while shooting 61.4 percent from the field.
The 24-year-old has battled various maladies throughout his career. He has never played more than 63 games in a season. Last year, he missed 16 games with a bone bruise in his left knee. The year before, it was soreness in his right knee that slowed him.
“It’s been unfortunate that just little things that have been nicking at me,” Nance said. “This year I feel healthy and I feel great and everything.”
To make matters worse, Nance is an avid video game player. The injury not only sidelined him from his job, but also from his preferred hobby away from basketball.
“It hurts especially because the new ‘Call of Duty’ just came out,” Nance said. “I’ve got nothing to do, so I’m just sitting around watching TV all day.”
He said he would be in the gym “just as much as” the rest of the Lakers, doing what he can with just his healthy right hand. He will not travel on their upcoming four-game trip, which starts Wednesday in Boston.
Kyle Kuzma has started both games at power forward since Nance’s injury. Walton said Kuzma is a fill-in starter for now, but did not rule out the possibility of him winning the job long-term.
Walton said starting is something Nance has “obviously been trying to work toward” since being drafted 27th overall in 2015.
“Now injury knocks him out,” Walton said. “I know what that’s like as a player. It can be frustrating. You start to feel, at least I started to feel a little distant from my team.”
For now, he gets to be a fan.
“I was watching last game (against Brooklyn) and they looked pretty good to me,” he said. “Obviously defense is probably where we’re going to miss me the most, but … if there’s a position we have super-depth at, it’s the power forward spot.”
The Lakers entered Sunday playing the third-fastest pace in the NBA, behind only Brooklyn and Phoenix. Memphis coach David Fizdale, who has earned praise for getting the “Grit N’ Grind” Grizzlies to play faster, took it a step further, calling the Lakers “arguably the fastest team in the league.”
“I thought I would never say that with a Brook Lopez team,” Fizdale said. “But they fly and Brook is the perfect complement to them.”
Fizdale compared Lopez with the Lakers to Memphis stalwart Marc Gasol.
“He is a stabilizing guy who can stretch the floor, who can post, who can pass out of the post,” Fizdale said. “It is really a good fit for them.”
Julius Randle became the 10th member of the 2014 draft class to reach 2,000 career points despite missing 81 games his rookie season with a broken leg. … Andrew Bogut was inactive for his second straight game with back spasms, but Walton said the veteran center is just day-to-day.
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