A subplot to Paul George facing the Los Angeles Lakers for the first time since spurning them in free agency is that Wednesday’s game is also a homecoming for Russell Westbrook. The leader of the Oklahoma City Thunder was born in Long Beach, Calif., and attended UCLA.
With the Lakers shorthanded because of injuries to LeBron James and Rajon Rondo, plenty of the responsibility in attempting to contain Westbrook will fall onto Lonzo Ball’s shoulders. Injuries prevented Ball from playing in last season’s games between the Lakers and Thunder.
“He’s one of the best players in the league. It’s going to be a good challenge. Just going to play as hard as I can,” Ball said of his first career matchup with Westbrook. “He’s a great player. He’s going to try to help his team win, I’m going to try to help my team.”
Although Ball has yet to go toe-to-toe with a fellow Bruin, he’s defended other marquee point guards, such as Damian Lillard and Kemba Walker, and had his share of success. Lakers head coach Luke Walton considers that type of experience, even in moments Ball may have struggled, as valuable.
“It’s always good. He went against most of these top point guards last year. I always think for young players it’s great to go against elite players at their position,” Walton explained.
Ball’s defense has garnered praise from teammates and Lakers president of basketball operations Magic Johnson, among others. The second-year point guard recently voiced his surprise at the perception of being a subpar defender.
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