LeBron James impressed by LaMelo Ball after standout performance against Lakers - Government Jobs

LeBron James impressed by LaMelo Ball after standout performance against Lakers

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Thursday night was a special night, even if LaMelo Ball wouldn’t admit it publicly. It was his first trip to Los Angeles as an NBA player. It was his first meeting against the defending champions. It was his first match-up against a Lakers franchise that drafted his oldest brother Lonzo, a franchise that their father once proclaimed would have all three of his sons.

Oh, and there was LeBron James.

So while LaMelo publicly stated he didn’t feel any sort of special way about Thursday’s game, his play indicated otherwise. And as he’s done multiple times this season, when the lights shined bright, he stood out.

After starting slow in the first half, Ball scored 20 points in the second half, missing just two shots with three assists and three rebounds all while pulling the Hornets back into the game. Ultimately, his team-high 26 points were for naught as James added another notch to his MVP case this season with 37 points, carrying the Lakers to a 116-105 win.

“I think he’s damn good (for) his age,” James said. “His speed, his quickness, his ability to make shots at all facets – in the paint, floaters, threes, he has a three-tier already and he’s going to only get better. Every game is a learning experience for him. He’s going to get better and better as the season goes on, as his career goes on. Him and (Lonzo) are two very unique players in our league and they showcase that every night.”

In many ways, Thursday played out like a microcosm of Ball’s season. The rookie knocked down just two field goals in the opening two periods and was tied with a team-worst plus-minus of minus-15 as the Hornets went into the locker room trailing by that exact margin at 60-45.

“I just kept attacking,” Ball said. “I knew myself. I had a bad first half so I knew there’s was two halves to the game. Usually when you have bad first half the second half, things even out a little.”

As the Hornets burst out of the gate to close the deficit, it was Ball that capped off the rally with a 9-0 run to tie the game. The rookie assisted Terry Rozier for a 3-pointer to start it, knocked down his own 3-pointer to cut the margin to three points, pulled Charlotte within two points with a free throw and tied the game on a layup, erasing the 15-point deficit less than six minutes into the second half.

“LaMelo was excited to play tonight,” Hornets head coach James Borrego said. “You could feel it. There was a lot of energy between the two teams. Even though there weren’t fans in there, I think you felt a spirit out there. He was a little anxious early, but he settled in and he started to slow down, but you could feel his excitement early.

“He wanted to play well and prove that he belongs in this league. I thought he was fantastic there down the stretch, I thought he competed. He really helped us.”

Charlotte never led in the second half as the Lakers came alive with a run of their own in response, but not before Ball’s fadeaway jumper over James ended his run of eight straight points for the Hornets.

It wasn’t the last laugh for Ball in the second half either. The rookie knocked down a 3-pointer early in the fourth quarter to pull the Hornets back within a point once again after Los Angeles had stretched the lead back out. When the Lakers began pulling away in the final frame, Ball did his best to keep Charlotte attached with a string of five-straight points to keep the deficit to single digits.

Only foul trouble slowed Ball down in the second half, including a foul he referred to as a “dumb mistake” on James that not only was a clear path foul but also his fifth. The rookie spent half of the last period on the bench and by the time he returned to the court for the final two minutes, the double-digit lead was beyond the Hornets’ grasp.

He finished the second half shooting 8-of-10 from the field, 2-of-3 from the 3-point line and 2-of-3 from the free throw line, scoring 20 of his 26 points in his 16 minutes in the final two periods. And he did it all while leaving an impression on the defending champions.

“He’s a good player man,” Alex Caruso said. “He’s doing it against good teams night in, night out. They’re playing with great pace and a lot of it is him just playing how he’s played since people have watched him in high school and that’s kind of how him and his brother, Zo, that’s kind of how they play – uptempo, get to the paint, create shots for others. Then he’s doing a good job of carrying the offensive threat, too.

“Once the game slows down for him and he starts actually learning how to put guys in position, do stuff like that, he’s going to be really, really good player. He’s already a really, really good player, but obviously with time, you improve.”

Moral victories won’t do the Hornets much good in their playoff race. Back-to-back losses to the Nuggets and Lakers dropped the team back to .500 and into seventh place in the Eastern Conference. A mixture of win percentage, tiebreakers and unequal games played separate fifth through eighth in the conference, adding more importance with each passing game.

No matter how the season plays out though, it’s becoming increasingly clear the Hornets have a special player in Ball to build their future around that will lead to many more special nights and match-ups against the elite teams and players like Thursday.

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