Kyle Kuzma threw his arm back like a quarterback looking to beat a tight end. His target was LeBron James, and the Los Angeles Lakers star made a move to LaMelo of the Charlotte Hornets.
Few defenders in any sport will be able to stop James when he moves with great speed and runs downhill. But Ball gave him a chance, reaching behind him to try and slow James down as he turned and retreated defensively.
Ball created a fastbreak opportunity by taking a shot at the feet of James, who raised his arm and redirected the ball to Kuzma. So Ball had the task of stopping him, even if it meant taking his fifth foul and putting an end to the Hornets’ impressive second consecutive comeback in a 116-105 defeat against the Lakers Thursday night at Staples Center.
But the game says a lot about Ball’s mentality in his first NBA game against James. As he said earlier in the week, this was another game for the talented rookie. It was the first time he played against one of the best players in the league. Another reference he can learn from.
It was good, Ball said of his first game against James, with whom his stats compare favorably in his first 20 starts in his career. But not too well, because we didn’t win.
Thursday was Ball’s 20th birthday. According to statistics and data from ESPN, Ball has averaged more points (19.8 vs. 16.5) than James in his first 20 games and has shot better from the field (46.8 percent vs. 39.9 percent) and behind the three-point line (43.2 percent vs. 31.5 percent).
Of course, this is not a perfect comparison. James started the first 20 games of the 2003 season for Cleveland, while only being a starter in the 20th. game of the season past in the Hornets’ starting lineup – Thursday was his 40th game. Career Contest. James was also the big winner of his draft class and was selected by his hometown team.
Ball entered the league as a mystery. He skipped his senior year of high school and college to play two seasons overseas until the Hornets selected him third last fall.
But the youngest of the three Ball brothers has probably been in the spotlight as long as James was when he first came into the league. And has survived more skeptics than James did when he stumbled around the Lithuanian league as a teenager and clowned around on the family’s Facebook Live reality show.
Those challenges and experiences, LaVar Ball’s father once predicted, gave LaMelo the potential to become the best of his three sons.
People ask me: Who’s the best? Lavar said in a 2017 interview with ESPN Magazine. I’m going, Lonzo is the best right now. He’s the oldest. But Melo will be the best because he has the most experience….. he has the most experience and the most….
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– Celtics v Bucks, 7:30 p.m. on ESPN
– Nets v Jazz, 10 p.m. on ESPN
Friday, March 26.
– Celtics v Bucks, 7:30 p.m. on ESPN
– Hawks v Warriors, 10 p.m. on ESPN
Still in the East
The elder Ball has been noticeably quiet since his youngest son emerged in the NBA this year. It’s partly a matter of geography: LaVar still lives in his home in Chino Hills, an hour east of Los Angeles, Lonzo is in New Orleans and LaMelo is in Charlotte. The other part is a conscious decision to remove himself from the media spotlight, where he often overshadowed Lonzo when he started with the Lakers.
But LaVar was not completely silenced. He gave an interview to ESPN radio in Los Angeles before Thursday’s game, addressing LaMelo’s comment that the game against James was nothing special.
He doesn’t see it that way: Oh, I’m playing with this guy! LaVar Ball said on the Mason & Ireland show. No, it’s a contest. … How can he be afraid of another man and your father LaVar Ball?
Pride drew a smile from the hosts. In fact, as usual, some of his statements have gone viral. But as has been the case all season, LaMelo’s talent speaks for itself.
He’s pretty good for his age, James said of Ball after their match. His speed, his quickness, his ability to make shots and baskets in the paint ….. and he will only get better. Every match is a learning experience for him. He will get better as the season goes on and as his career progresses.
He and Zo are two unique players in our league and they show it every night.
LeBron James takes on LaMelo Ball in a generational clash between current and future NBA greats. Adam Pantozzi/NBAE via Getty Images.
James was better than Ball and the Hornets this night, finishing with 37 points on 14-of-22 shooting to lead the Lakers to their fourth win in a row and was named MVP by his coach and teammates.
But Ball looked like a contender for Rookie of the Year. He scored 20 of his 26 points in the second half, then Charlotte fought back with 15 points to cut the score to 86-85 after Ball hit a three-pointer with 10 minutes and 13 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
LeBron and LaMelo after their first meeting pic.twitter.com/wuZ9fMU6Db
– ESPN (@espn) March 19, 2021
Hornets coach James Borrego said his enthusiasm was evident from the start. He wanted to play well and prove that he belonged in this league. … I think he was a little worried at first, but he calmed down and slowed down. … I thought he was fantastic on the track. I loved his struggle and his fighting spirit.
His mistakes were aggressive, and not because of the added pressure of facing the four-time MVP. A clean route foul that gave James two free throws and the Lakers the ball on the next possession showed Ball’s fighting spirit to get back on defense after a turnover.
It was just a stupid mistake that I should have learned from, Ball said of the turnover (his sixth of the night) that forced him to sit on the bench for the next 5:27.
The Hornets remained even with the Lakers in this period. But they had no time to recover when Ball finally came back with 1:43 to go and the Lakers led 112-101. Ball scored four points in the time remaining, but James and the Lakers eliminated him fairly easily. After the game, Ball spoke briefly to the media before returning to the team hotel.
Due to NBA health and safety protocols, the first NBA game in his hometown is a lonely affair. The Hornets remain in Los Angeles on Saturday to take on the Clippers. In a normal year, he sees hundreds of family and friends, just like his older brother did during his time with the Lakers. But these are not normal times.
Life is strange right now, Ball said shrugging his shoulders when asked why there was no homecoming. Honestly, everything seems normal. So I don’t know what’s going on here.
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