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Las Vegas Summer League: Lonzo Ball’s unbelievable play has the Lakers winning already

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There’s never been another run like Lonzo Ball’s through summer league.

2017 Las Vegas Summer League - Brooklyn Nets v Los Angeles Lakers Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

LAS VEGAS — The Los Angeles Lakers are one win away from achieving their goal of capturing the Las Vegas Summer League championship, and in the semifinals, Lonzo Ball showed how much the team’s success has been built around the way he dominates the game of basketball with his passing.

That much was clear as the Lakers got out to a 20-point lead over the Dallas Mavericks, fired up with Ball finding his stride early. Ball’s absence through the second half made it all the more glaring how much he means to the summer league Lakers.

“Obviously when you lose Lonzo it's tough on the team, but we want to give a lot of credit to those guys who came in and held on,” Lakers summer league head coach Jud Buechler said after the win.

Tough on the team is an understatement. The Lakers were outscored 31-21 in the fourth quarter, no longer capable of running on the fumes left for the shorthanded team. Luckily, their hot start gave them enough cushion to eek out the victory.

Ball finished the first quarter with 12 points and four assists, directing seemingly every possession into one that ends with points on the board for the Lakers. 21 of the Lakers’ 34 points (62%) in the opening frame came directly off the fingertips of Ball, who was splashing threes, layups and even a filthy turnaround jumper over the top of Dennis Smith, Jr. That’s without being able to go back through the film to account for any passes that turned into free-throws.

The first 10 minutes of the game were enough to make up for the last 10 minutes of the game, and the Lakers are heading to the title game because of it.

“[Lonzo] was amazing. He's getting better and better. Obviously getting more comfortable with what we're doing. He just was dynamite there for about a 12-minute stretch there,” Buechler said.

Much of the post-game talk was focused on how much character the Lakers showed as they survived watching their 20-point lead get cut down to one. They’d go on to win by 10, a margin padded by late-game fouling, but the real message was clear: Lonzo Ball is already the heart of the Lakers.

Once the regular season starts rolling the NBA’s advanced tracking numbers are going to tell the story of how Ball’s passing is subliminally prolific. He’s constantly looking ahead, trying to push the pace with his passing moreso than his dribbling and quick scoring. Ball picks his spots as a scorer, but as a passer there’s nowhere to hide for the defense.

Until then, watching the ball spin through the air into the hands of his teammates is the best way to appreciate the passing of the Lakers dynamo No. 2 pick. No player in Las Vegas Summer League history has ever had more than one 10-plus assist games. Ball has four, with a fifth potentially on the horizon. He’s averaging a summer league-high 9.3 assists per game.

When the Lakers said they wanted a pass-first point guard, they meant it.

“We're in a league right now that's kind of dominated with scoring point guards, and there are some great ones, don't get me wrong. But to kind of now have this young kid come along, 19 years old, who's really changing the way point guards play with pass-first and get your teammates going first, it's amazing to watch.

“We feel like the way he's playing can really transform the whole team, and you can see it here in Vegas,” Lakers general manager Rob Pelinka said in a halftime interview in the back tunnels of the Thomas and Mack Center during the semifinals.

The Mavericks had no answer for the up-and-down the court Lakers. The only thing that could stop Lonzo Sunday night, and potentially the purple and gold from winning the summer league title Monday night against the Portland Trail Blazers, is a strained calf.

“You can see what he's all about, and he's a winner,” Buechler said.

The Lakers are one victory away from the first taste of winning with Lonzo as their leader.