Lonzo Ball doesn’t often show emotion in games, but Friday night against the Charlotte Hornets, he crossed over point guard Kemba Walker, slammed in a dunk and then shouted while staring down a television camera.
Ball was back on the court and delighted to be there.
The Lakers recovered the services of their starting point guard after he missed six games with a sprained left shoulder. The team lost all six games it played without Ball as part of an eight-game losing streak heading into Friday night.
Ball returned to practice Thursday — an unusually physical event. He was a little sore Friday and knew that when he returned to the court, he wouldn’t be 100%.
Asked whether he felt pressure to end the losing streak, Ball reacted as he often does:
“Pressure’s been on me since I’ve been here, so I’m gonna look at it the same way,” Ball said before the game.
He missed his first two shots but made four of six after that, finishing with 11 points, five assists and four rebounds.
Although the Lakers struggled to score early in the game, they played much faster than they had in Ball’s absence. Their pace suffered more than any other facet of the game without Ball.
“When I was in, I was trying to push it, and sometimes it was working out and sometimes it wasn’t,” Ball said. “It was my first game back. Hopefully it is better on Sunday.”
Howard still despised
Lakers fans made their feelings about Dwight Howard known during pregame introductions. Howard received louder boos than any opposing player at Staples Center this season. He was booed more when he took free throws and still more when he touched the ball during the game. But he had 15 points and 10 rebounds in the Hornets’ 108-94 win.
“At some point, they get over it. It wasn’t like that … I had a good time,” Howard said. “I thought I played very well, despite just coming off of back surgery and also tearing a labrum, which I guess means nothing to people. Other than that, it’s always fun to come here and play in L.A.”
Howard gained infamy in Los Angeles after being traded to the Lakers in August 2012. The Lakers also added Steve Nash that summer.
A team that was expected to contend for a championship struggled through injuries, and Howard never meshed with Kobe Bryant. Despite an effort to re-sign Howard after his contract expired, the big man chose to go to the Houston Rockets.
The Lakers are still looking for a way to fix their defensive struggles.
Coach Luke Walton said Friday morning that he would know his team was playing the way he wanted them to if he saw their defense improve. Friday’s starting lineup of Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle, Brook Lopez, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Ball showed a clear effort to improve defensively.
“Our defense has been pretty tragic pretty recently,” Walton said. “We’ve got to get back to really taking pride and putting an emphasis on that. Obviously we’re not going to go exactly back to how we were before, but we’re going to have a game plan that emphasizes … our defense.”
Follow Tania Ganguli on Twitter @taniaganguli