Hours after the war of words between his father and the president of the United States escalated, Lonzo Ball did what he does best: He played basketball.
Ball notched his second career triple-double to lead the Lakers to a 127-109 win over the Denver Nuggets at Staples Center.
“I actually like this one,” said Ball, whose first career triple-double came in a loss to the Milwaukee Bucks.
The Lakers had lost five of their last six games before throttling the Nuggets to improve their record to 7-10. It was Ball’s best game at home, and the team’s as well. They notched a season-high 36 assists and had seven players in double figures. Julius Randle led all scorers with 24 points. Brandon Ingram added 13, Kyle Kuzma 17 on seven-for-11 shooting, Brook Lopez 21, Kentavious Cadlwell-Pope 15 and Jordan Clarkson 18.
Ball scored 11 points with 11 assists, 16 rebounds and two blocked shots. He is the second player in Lakers history to have multiple triple-doubles in his rookie season (the other is Magic Johnson). Ball also joined an elite group of players who have had two triple-doubles within their first 20 games. In NBA history, only Oscar Robertson, Hambone Williams, Connie Hawkins, Johnson, Ben Simmons and Ball have done it.
And in the not-that-meaningful-but-eerie-coincidence department was this: LeBron James was 20 years and 23 days old when he got his second career triple-double. Ball was exactly the same age.
“The media will probably love him tomorrow and hate him again the next day,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said. “He’s going to stay level headed and keep doing what he does. We’re gonna keep saying we support him, he’s gonna keep getting better. That’s just going to probably be the process of how this plays out.”
Denver never led after the first quarter, and the Lakers built a lead they wouldn’t relinquish in the second.
Ball’s high assist numbers are normal, but it pleased Walton to see other players willing give up the ball as well.
“The ball movement was fantastic,” Lopez said. “It made stuff easy on the offensive end.”
Midway through the second quarter, the Lakers had a 20-point lead when fireworks erupted. Denver coach Mike Malone and center Nikola Jokic were both ejected for arguing with referee Rodney Mott.
By halftime, the Lakers had scored 70 points and Ball was already close to the triple-double.
Rebounding isn’t a trademark skill of point guards, but for Ball’s game it can be critical. Lakers associate head coach Brian Shaw once told Ball that rebounding is what gets his game going.
“Just based on rebounding, the fact I’m more engaged,” Ball said. “Big men are boxing each other out so I can go get it most of the time and I did that. We happened to play a lot better.”
No other rookie has even had a game with 14 rebounds this season, and it had been nearly 18 years since a rookie guard had 16 rebounds. Steve Francis had 17 on Jan. 27, 2000.
It’s only been eight days since Ball’s first career triple-double and the week between was eventful.
His brother LiAngelo, a freshman on the UCLA basketball team, returned from China on Tuesday, where he was questioned by police over alleged shoplifting. On Wednesday, Ball played what he and Walton agreed was his worst game. He went to the Lakers facility late that night to try to shoot out the negative feelings left from their loss to the Philadelphia 76ers.
On Thursday, Ball got a haircut which (laughably, to his teammates) made headlines.
On Friday, his father questioned Trump’s influence on the release of LiAngelo and two UCLA teammates from China. And on Sunday, Trump said on Twitter that he should have “left them in jail!”
“He’s got more on his plate than I could ever imagine anyone having especially at his age,” Walton said. “It’s our job to be here and let him know that we support him and we believe in him.
“I don’t know where it gets too much and how he reacts to it, but I’ve made a point to talk to him and let him know whether or not he needs it that my belief and our team’s belief in him is 100% there.”
On Sunday, Ball offered another glimpse of why he deserves that faith.
Follow Tania Ganguli on Twitter @taniaganguli