Los Angeles Lakers rookie point guard Lonzo Ball made his return to the lineup after a six-game absence Friday night, looking about as well as could be expected. Ball had 11 points, five assists and four rebounds, shooting 50 percent from the field and 42.9 percent from three.
However, according to Lakers head coach Luke Walton, those numbers don’t totally reflect Ball’s value. “It was really nice having ‘Zo back. Even though, obviously, we didn’t win the game, what he brings to the group,” Walton said.
What Lonzo brought back to the Lakers was pure, unadulterated speed. The team posted its fastest PACE (104.16 possessions per 48 minutes) since the game before Ball went down. Meaning, the team was able to jet out in transition and try to get easier looks.
It hasn’t always worked, but for better or worse that’s been how the Lakers have tried to play all year while averaging a league-high 103.79 possessions per 48 minutes.
While the Lakers struggled to use that extra speed to convert easy baskets against Charlotte Hornets, Brandon Ingram said playing as fast as the Lakers want to will eventually lead to better results.
“It was better tonight because we pushed the pace,” Ingram explained. “I think we got back to it but some misled passes — I know I had a couple — that we couldn’t convert on the fast break will look a lot better when you try to enforce our pace.”
But while the Lakers were able to play faster again, Ball wasn’t satisfied. “It wasn’t too good because we didn’t win,” he said matter of factly.
Ball also said his shoulder “wasn’t too bad” in his return and that whatever lingering pain he had could be played through. And as long as Ball continues to play, he is among the Lakers focused on fixing the team’s defense, which will only help them reach their goal of playing faster.
“We’ve got to let defense go to offense, not offense go to defense,” Ball said.
The Lakers have been cratering defensively for over a month now, and even though a rookie like Ball — even as unexpectedly good as he’s been defensively — can’t be counted on to fix all of the team’s many woes on that end.
In turn, L.A. also won’t be able to halt it’s nine-game losing skid until it stops hemorrhaging points. Still, Ingram said that having Ball back helps, and if the Lakers are going to avoid tying the franchise’s worst losing streak ever Sunday, they’ll need all the help they can get.
“A point guard like him makes it a lot easier for you in the operating area and he’s a good defender,” Ingram said. “So he’s another asset to our team who knows the spots the be at, who’s going to give us maximum effort on the defensive end, and overall he’s just a really good player.”
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