Luke Walton liked what he saw when Lonzo Ball went from facilitator to finisher in crunch time Monday night, the Lakers rookie point guard scoring seven of his 16 points in overtime of a 116-114 loss to the Golden State Warriors in Staples Center.
Ball scored the Lakers’ first five points of the extra period, hitting a 26-foot, step-back three-pointer and a 14-foot pull-up jumper from the right elbow to tie the score at 107. His driving layup over Jordan Bell gave the Lakers a 113-112 lead with 1 minute 3 seconds left.
After Kevin Durant’s 22-foot jumper gave the Warriors a two-point lead with seven seconds left, Ball drove the length of the court before his layup was blocked by David West in the final second.
“It was awesome,” Walton said after Tuesday’s practice. “If he took those same shots and missed them all, I’m still good with that, because we want him being aggressive, especially down the stretch of games, in fourth quarters, in overtime.
“He’s such an unselfish player and has such a great feel for the game that sometimes he’ll get lost out there as far as looking for his own [shot]. I think part of what’s gonna make him an even greater playmaker is when he’s scoring the ball as well, and defenses can’t just play passing lanes.”
Could Ball’s finishing flourish have been inspired by the presence of one of the NBA’s best all-time closers, Kobe Bryant, who was sitting courtside on the night his jersey numbers were retired?
“Nah,” Ball said. “I was just taking what I saw.”
Twenty-eight games into his NBA career, Ball is searching for that balance between attacking the basket and distributing the ball, one of the many challenges NBA rookie point guards face.
“He plays the toughest position in our league,” Walton said. “There’s so much you have to know. ‘What one of my teammates hasn’t had a shot in a while? Does [Kentavious Caldwell-Pope] like shooting coming off right, coming off left? Where does Julius [Randle] like catching the ball?’
“There are so many things that go through a point guard’s mind at this level, it’s tough to pick out one thing and say that’s the toughest for him.”
Finding a comfortable release, rotation and rhythm on his jumper has been tough for Ball, who is shooting 33.9% from the field and 27.5% from three-point range. But the Lakers are encouraged by Ball’s past three games, in which he made nine of 20 three-pointers.
“The way he shoots in practice, the way he shot at UCLA … he’s a good shooter,” Walton said. “As a 19-year-old rookie coming in, there’s a lot of pressure. The three-point line is different, people guard you different, the length and speed [of opponents] is different.
“And every time you miss a shot, the entire media world comments on that you can’t shoot. So I think for him, it’s been getting comfortable, finding his groove at this level.”
Lopez out at least 3 weeks
An MRI test confirmed a moderate sprain of Brook Lopez’s right ankle, an injury that is expected to sideline the Lakers center for at least three weeks. The 7-foot Lopez, acquired from Brooklyn last June, twisted the ankle in the second quarter Monday night.
“He said he didn’t sleep much [Monday] night, but it wasn’t the throbbing pain that kept him awake as much as he was frustrated that he was hurt,” Walton said. “He’s a little upset right now, a little defeated, because he’s not going to be able to help his teammates.”
Lopez, who has been one of the best outside-shooting centers in the league, is averaging a career-low 12.8 points and 22.4 minutes. He’s shooting 44.6% overall and 29.7% (33 for 111) from three-point range.
Walton said he could go with a smaller lineup and start Randle or Kyle Kuzma at power forward with Larry Nance Jr. at center. Or, he could start Andrew Bogut or Thomas Bryant at center and keep intact his second unit, with Randle and Kuzma coming off the bench.
“We’ve got some tough decisions to make as far as the minutes and lineups are concerned,” Walton said.
The Lakers decided to keep 20-year-old center Ivica Zubac in the development league.
“It’s important for him to play a lot of minutes, stay sharp and get his confidence up,” Walton said. “He hasn’t been getting enough practice time and opportunity with us.”
Kuzma scored 25 points Monday, his fifth 20-point game as a reserve. He is tied with teammate Jordan Clarkson for the third-most such games behind the Clippers’ Lou Williams (nine) and Memphis’ Tyreke Evans (seven). … Point guard Alex Caruso, who averaged 18.8 points and 7.5 assists in 16 games for the South Bay Lakers , will rejoin the Lakers for Wednesday night’s game as part of his two-way contract.
When: 5 p.m. Wednesday.
Where: Toyota Center, Houston
On Air: TV: Spectrum SportsNet, Spectrum Deportes; Radio: 710, 1330.