Lakers' Lonzo Ball 'a little tired' after starting, playing 34 minutes

ByOhm Youngmisuk ESPN logo
Friday, March 2, 2018

MIAMI -- As Lonzo Ball stood at his locker stall, he mumbled about how tired he was.

Despite still feeling some discomfort in his left knee, Ball was back in the starting lineup and had his best game since returning from a sprained left MCL, leaving his fingerprints all over the Los Angeles Lakers' 131-113 rout of the Miami Heat.

Ball filled up the box score with 8 points, 7 assists, 6 rebounds and a career-high 6 steals in 34 minutes. It was the most minutes Ball has played in his three games back. He missed 15 games because of his MCL injury.

Six Lakers scored in double figures Thursday night, including Isaiah Thomas (29 points, six 3-pointers) and Julius Randle (25 points, 21 coming in the first half), but Lakers coach Luke Walton said Ball was the best player on the floor despite taking only five shots.

"He was great," Walton said. "To me he was probably the best player on the court tonight, and I think he only shot five times, which is why we've been so high on him from day one. He's one of the very unique players, it doesn't matter if he's taking shots, scoring 20 a game, or not, he can impact the game from all over. He was doing that for us tonight. All-around probably, in my opinion, the best player on the floor tonight."

Walton's praise came in a game in which Miami's Dwyane Wade turned back the clock and scored 25 points off the bench, including sinking a highlight-worthy turnaround, fadeaway jumper from the baseline while being blanketed by Ball.

Wade said he was impressed with Ball.

"I have been a big fan of him," Wade said. "I watched him play in college. He has a great feel of the game, and he doesn't play for statistics. He plays to win. He moves the ball, and his IQ of the game is incredible. He is athletic. Everyone talks about his shot, but he has been shooting that way his whole life. He can knock shots down.

"He is good, man. He is a good basketball player. Everyone expects him to come in and be Kobe Bryant, but Kobe Bryant wasn't Kobe Bryant when he came in. He had to work to it. So he has a long career, hopefully, in front of him and we will see how it shakes out."

Ball had been on a minutes restriction in his three games since the All-Star break. He said that he still feels discomfort in his left knee and that he was feeling the burn of playing his most minutes since he suffered the injury Jan. 13.

"I'm a little tired today, but we got a day off tomorrow, so I will be ready to go next game," Ball said. "I can feel it [the left knee], but it is not going to be any worse. Just play through it."

The Lakers have won four straight games since Ball's return, and the win over the Heat in Miami was one of their best road victories of the season. Ball made 2 of 3 3-pointers and has shot 8-of-12 on 3-pointers since returning.

Still, Ball opted to spread around the ball and get his teammates involved from the tip, and the Lakers got off to a fast start.

Inserted back into the starting lineup perhaps a little earlier than the Lakers wanted because ofJosh Hart's fractured finger, Ball had 3 assists, 3 rebounds and 2 steals in his first seven minutes as the Lakers scored 33 points in the first quarter.

Ball pushed the pace, disrupted the Miami passing lanes, and even hit the glass and kept possessions alive, such as when he tapped a Lakers miss away from Heat rebounders on a play that resulted with Kentavious Caldwell-Pope hitting a 3. On another play, he passed up a potential open shot by delivering a touch pass back out to the perimeter to an open Brook Lopez for a 3 when a defender was scrambling toward Ball.

"It's contagious how he plays," said Randle, who made 8 of 12 shots. "Everybody gets the ball, he's always looking to make plays for other guys, it's contagious."

With Randle, Thomas and Brandon Ingram (19 points) all scoring, Ball was a happy point guard trying to feed all his scorers. The Lakers shot 59.5 percent from the field and hit 16 of 29 (55.2 percent) 3-pointers.

The night before the Lakers' win, the team's rookies and some veterans went out to Prime 112 steakhouse for dinner. Ball offered to help injured Hart by cutting his steak for him.

"At first he was a little hesitant, but then he looked at his hand and he said it was OK," Ball said.

Ball never stops dishing assists to teammates, even if it's in a steakhouse.

"Pretty much," Ball said.

Related Video