Rookies Ball, Tatum meet in Lakers-Celtics matchup

BOSTON -- Heading into this year's NBA Draft, the Boston Celtics made a decision to trade down from No. 1 to No. 3.

In doing so, they gave the Philadelphia 76ers the right to draft Markelle Fultz -- and completely skipped over Lonzo Ball, the UCLA product who clearly was going to the Los Angeles Lakers at No. 2.

The Celtics opted for Jayson Tatum with the third pick. Tatum and Ball meet for the first time when the sizzling Celtics host the Lakers on Wednesday night.

Boston won its ninth consecutive game Monday, escaping with a win at Atlanta, to improve to 9-2 with its old rival coming to town.

The Lakers are a surprising 5-5 and have won two straight as they begin their four-game road trip.

The Celtics are interested in the Lakers' fortunes because, as part of the Fultz trade, Boston gets Los Angeles' pick in the next draft if it is between No. 2 and No. 5.

Early indications are that is not going to happen, which would defer the pick to a choice in the 2019 draft between the spot belonging to either the Sacramento Kings or Philadelphia (as long as it is not No. 1).

An opening-night, season-ending injury to Gordon Hayward quickly thrust Tatum into a more-pronounced role, and he has responded capably. In his first 11 NBA games, the Duke one-and-done has averaged 14.3 points and 6.5 rebounds in 31.6 minutes per game. The 19-year-old looks remarkably poised, shooting 50 percent from the floor, 52.9 percent from 3-point range.

Ball has had all kinds of shooting trouble, hitting just 29.9 percent from the floor while averaging 8.8 points, 6.9 assists and 6.4 rebounds per game in his first 10 as a pro.

In the past two games combined, Ball shot 6 of 28 from the field, including 1 of 11 from 3-point range. However, he also had 16 assists, and the Lakers won both games, with Brook Lopez scoring 34 and 21 points in the two contests.

Ball scored 29 points in his second game as a pro but has tallied just 59 in the other nine. Even so, he is leading coach Luke Walton's fast-paced attack.

"The chemistry's building," Ball said Monday. "We're playing a lot faster, and in half-court we're cutting a lot harder. Guys are knowing where people are at now. It's getting a lot easier."

While Ball is getting most of the publicity, Los Angeles rookie Kyle Kuzma, the 27th pick in the draft, is averaging 15.4 points and 6.4 rebounds per game.

The Celtics are getting contributions from everyone on the roster, but they are led by Kyrie Irving and Al Horford, who were supposed to be two-thirds of the new Big Three, with Hayward the third piece.

Boston became the first team in NBA history to lose its first two games and then win the next seven. They pushed the winning streak to nine on Monday behind Irving's 35 points and seven assists, Tatum's 21 points and eight rebounds, and Horford's 15 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists.

After Tatum hit a big shot Monday night, Irving said, "If he doesn't shoot it, then I'm going to be right in his face telling him that he needs to (expletive) shoot it."

In other words, that rookie thing is just a label. Since the Hayward injury, it's all hands on deck in Boston.

The Celtics swept the two-game series from the Lakers last season.

Horford will not play against the Lakers on Wednesday night after entering the NBA's concussion protocol, the team announced.

Horford first started exhibiting symptoms Wednesday morning after he was struck in the head on a foul called in the second quarter of the Celtics' 110-107 win over the Atlanta Hawks on Monday night. He stayed in the game and had 15 points, 10 rebounds and nine assists against his former team.

The Celtics said the 31-year-old Horford will be monitored as he progresses through the protocol.

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