Two days into his rookie season, a 19-year-old put on a display that most NBA players could never duplicate.
Lonzo Ball, the Lakers’ second-overall pick, performed a 29-point, 11-rebound, nine-assist dissection of Phoenix’s defense, leading Los Angeles to its first win of the year, 132-130.
Twenty-four hours after a lukewarm debut, Ball took advantage of whatever the Suns gave him.
“Last game I shot six shots — that didn’t work out too well,” Ball said. “Figured I’d try something else.”
By “something else” Lonzo meant putting up 27 attempts and making 12 of them.
The bulk of his scoring came by attacking the teeth of the defense (and challenging 7-foot-1 Tyson Chandler), but he also made the Suns pay for going under screens by cashing four 3-pointers.
What head coach Luke Walton liked best was how Ball — who was just one assist shy of the youngest triple-double in NBA history — stayed within the offense, even when making the game a one-man show.
“I think he shot so much because of the way they were defending him,” Walton said. “That’s what we want him to do. I’m sure if he gets trapped, he’ll end up making the pass every team. Again, it’s why we think he’s gonna be a special player.”
Ball took his game to a higher level when the Suns cut the Lakers’ lead to three with three minutes remaining.
He created separation from his man on a screen then finished with a left-handed layup against a tough contest from Chandler, a former Defensive Player of the Year.
Next he assisted on a Kyle Kuzma layup before taking it back to the rack himself, again finishing with his off hand over Chandler.
Finally, Ball took advantage of defensive miscommunication, as he strolled through a path to the basket, giving the Lakers an eight-point lead with his 90-second flurry of three layups and a dime.
“The way Lonzo Ball took over the way tonight when he got downhill was amazing to see,” Brandon Ingram said.
Lonzo, who doesn’t get stats during the game, wasn’t aware of how close he came to LeBron James’ record for the league’s youngest triple-double ever.
He was more preoccupied with scoring 20 points in the second half and directing the Lakers to their highest point total in a regulation game since Feb. 26, 2009.
He also wasn’t concerned about those criticizing him for having just four points in his debut the night before.
“I’m used to it,” Ball said. “I know everybody’s going to take everything game by game. If I play bad on Sunday, it’s going right back to, ‘He’s a bust.’
“So it don’t really matter to me.”
B.I. playing big
While Ball stole the spotlight with his conducting of the offense, Ingram was the star of the first half, putting up 17 of his career-high 25 points.
The 20-year-old stayed confident and in control, attacking the paint and hitting three triples on his way to a 9-of-14 night from the field.
Ingram felt that the Lakers needed to prove themselves after losing to the LA Clippers by 16 in the previous night’s season opener.
“We wanted to come out and redeem ourselves,” Ingram said. “That’s not the identity we wanted to show in our first regular-season game.”
Ingram was certainly a key cog in doing so, as was Brook Lopez, who hung up 19 points — eight in the fourth quarter — and 11 rebounds.
And while the Lakers burned a Phoenix defense that surrendered the most points in the NBA last year, it was Corey Brewer who spearheaded a necessary effort on the other end.
After Suns fire-starter Devin Booker put up 17 points and seven assists in the first half, Brewer was tasked with denying him the ball and hounding him when he did get the rock.
The 11-year vet did just that, holding Booker to eight points and one dime the rest of the way.
And while Booker was the night’s best defender, Larry Nance Jr. provided its biggest stop. Phoenix trailed by just two when Marquese Chriss went up for a shot right at the hoop.
But Nance rose up for a clean block, and the Suns’ T.J. Warren later missed potentially game-tying free throws.
Jordan Clarkson (17 points), Kyle Kuzma (15 pts, 6-of-7) and Nance (14 pts) all had strong nights. … Eric Bledsoe (28 points) and Warren (24) were key for Phoenix. … A sold-out crowd of 18,055 filled Talking Stick Resort Arena.
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