SAN ANTONIO — Revenge game? “Revenge” isn’t really in Lonnie Walker IV’s emotional palette.
Even as Walker admitted he thought he would remain in San Antonio – the organization that drafted him, and the city where his mother moved – last offseason, even after he scored 18 points, largely during a blistering first half, in the Lakers’ 105-94 win, there was no malice at all as he talked about his old team.
“I know a lot of people want to portray it as a revenge game,” he said. “But there’s no revenge. There’s nothing but family.”
The 23-year-old said he’s already buried the hatchet with his former franchise, though he wanted badly to keep the Lakers perfect against them, improving to 2-0 this season. He’s averaging a career-high in scoring (17.0 ppg) and shooting a career-best percentage from the floor (46.8%).
Without going to the Lakers, Walker said, he might never have tapped into his potential.
“I think the bright lights is what’s allowing me to play my best,” he said. “I love playing in this type of environment with these types of players. And just trying to show my talents. I think not too many people really know my game, and it’s finally starting to show.”
The Spurs graciously welcomed back Walker, who got to see a lot of former teammates and watched a pregame tribute video as a part of the Lakers’ introductions. That familial atmosphere is why Walker, who grew up in Pennsylvania, calls San Antonio his “home.”
“Very emotional. I mean I’m still kind of emotional,” he said. “I’ve done a lot for the community, the community has done a lot for myself. The bond between not only off the court with the city of San Antonio, and within the organization it’s all love. We’re still family.”
SCHRÖDER STARTS FOR BEVERLEY
With Patrick Beverley missing the first of three games due to a league-imposed suspension, the Lakers turned to a player who last started for them during the 2020-21 season.
Dennis Schröder got the nod in just his fourth game back from thumb surgery, with the Lakers hoping for a boost from the 29-year-old guard. During his first stint with the Lakers, he started in all 61 regular-season games he played. This season, he came into Friday’s game a little rusty, shooting 5 for 18 from the field with five assists, but the Lakers gave him the nod in part for his ability as an on-ball defender – perhaps not with the intensity of Beverley, but the next best thing.
Beverley has been disappointing on offense this season, but the 34-year-old has an impact on the other end: The Lakers’ defense has been much better when he’s on the court (105.4 drtg) than when he’s off of it (112.1 drtg) for the highest defensive differential on the team.
“It’s an unfortunate situation but at the end of the day, you have to respect the league’s decision,” Coach Darvin Ham said. “Pat’s a fighter and it will give him a chance to stay healthy, for one. But just give him a chance to work on his body and be ready to go once the suspension is over.”
SAN ANTONIO MEMORIES
In a seven-game series, Ham only was on the court for eight minutes total. But the 2005 NBA Finals was the kind of event that left a lasting impression for the then-veteran forward.
Ham was a member of the Detroit Pistons team that lost to the Spurs, 4-3, in the 2005 NBA Finals in the same building where the Lakers tipped off on Friday night. Even long after the fact, Ham said he would talk about it many times with current Milwaukee Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer, one of his coaching mentors who was on the Spurs’ coaching staff at the time.
It was a different era of basketball: Both teams shot under 44% from the floor, and only in one of the seven games did either team score more than 100 points (Detroit in Game 4). San Antonio won the decisive Game 7, 81-74.
“We built, like, monster rosters on both sides, really defensive-minded teams,” Ham said. “The basketball wasn’t too sexy, but for the true fan, to see the way those guys, we all competed against one another, the high level of respect we had for each other, that was evident throughout the seven-game series.”