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LaMelo Ball shines in Lakers showdown, but only to a degree

Hornets guard LaMelo Ball scores on a layup against Lakers forward Markieff Morris.
Hornets guard LaMelo Ball scores on a layup against Lakers forward Markieff Morris on Thursday night at Staples Center.
(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

LaMelo Ball, the 19-year-old Charlotte Hornets point guard from Chino Hills, flashed the skill against the Lakers on Thursday night at Staples Center that has many considering him the front-runner for rookie of the year.

Strong drives to the basket. A pull-up, one-legged fadeaway jumper for a basket over LeBron James. Nifty passes across the court. A key three-pointer that cut Charlotte’s deficit to one point, 86-85, with 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter during his outstanding play in the second half.

Then the Lakers went on a 10-0 run thanks to back-to-back baskets by Markieff Morris to reclaim control of the contest on the way to a 116-105 win.

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That’s when Ball’s plus-minus rating plummeted to minus-15, tied for worst with fellow Hornets starters Terry Rozier and Cody Zeller.

“Definitely felt good playing out here,” Ball said while wearing a Dodgers cap in his videoconference. “It felt good, but not too good because we didn’t get the win. The whole team knows we can compete. We all know what we can do. It’s just about putting it together and playing hard.”

Ball had only six points on two-of-eight shooting from the field in the first half, missing both of his three-pointers. He had four rebounds and two assists.

An in-depth look at the fascinating relationship between LaVar Balll and his family with the city of Chino Hills.

“You could feel his excitement early,” Charlotte coach James Borrego said of Ball after the game. “He wanted to play well and prove that he belongs in this league. ... I think he was a little anxious at first, but he settled down and slowed down. ... I thought he was fantastic down the stretch. I liked his fight and his competitive spirit.”

Ball made eight of 10 shots in the second half, sinking two of his three long-range shots. He finished with 26 points, seven assists, five rebounds, one steal and a game-high six turnovers.

“I think he’s damn good to be his age,“ James said of Ball. “His speed, his quickness, his ability to make shots at all facets in the paint, floaters, threes, and he’s going to only get better. Every game is a learning experience for him. Him and Zo are two just very unique players in our league, and they showcase that every night.”

It was only five years ago that Ball joined his older brothers Lonzo and LiAngelo in winning the state championship during a 35-0 season at Chino Hills High as a freshman.

The rest of the story has become lore — his father, LaVar, pulling him out of high school after sophomore season to begin a globe-trotting tour over the next three years. It began with a handful of games on a pro team in Lithuania, to a season at a private prep school in Ohio, to an impressive 12-game run in Australia’s pro league that helped him leap up the draft charts.

Highlights from the Lakers’ 116-105 victory over the Charlotte Hornets on March 18, 2021, at Staples Center.

Ball was eventually taken No. 3 overall by Charlotte in the NBA draft last fall. He is on track to be one of five rookies to average 15 points, six rebounds and six assists — a group that includes Magic Johnson, Oscar Robertson, Ben Simmons and Michael Carter-Williams.

Ball leads rookies in assists and rebounds, and he is behind No. 1 overall pick Anthony Edwards of Minnesota for the most points among first-year players.


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