The Los Angeles Lakers held Lonzo Ball out of their blowout loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder, opting to give him extra time off the court after he informed the training staff he felt soreness in his sprained shoulder ahead of the game.
That’s moved the goal posts to the Lakers’ game against the Charlotte Hornets on Friday, and as it stands, it seems likely that Ball will finally return after missing the last six games. Lonzo was a full participant in what head coach Luke Walton described as a physical practice following the embarrassing loss, and as long as the training staff clear him, the No. 2 pick is ready to get back on the floor
“It’s not 100, but I mean, it’s manageable. I’m out there playing, and I’m just happy to be back for the most part,” Ball said, providing a full update on his shoulder after getting another day of practice in.
“I think I’ll be back before it’s 100 for sure. Hopefully they clear me for tomorrow, but we’ll see how it goes.”
The biggest challenge for Ball during his time away? Being limited as a bystander while his teammates have struggled.
“When you sit out all you can do is try to motivate them pretty much just by talking, so it’s kinda hard. You can’t get out there and actually go out there and play with them, so that’s the most challenging part for me. Being able to watch but not really being able to help much,” Ball said.
That time on the sidelines has allowed Lonzo a chance to observe from a distance, and it’s clear to him where the defensive slippage is coming from.
“Guys aren’t talking, we’re not helping, guys are getting beat. We’ve just gotta come together as a team to figure it out,” he said when asked what he’s seeing from the bench.
Coach Luke admitted that Ball’s absence has been partly to blame for the Lakers’ nosedive into a defensive disaster, which shows in the numbers. LA has allowed an average of 120.8 points per 100 possessions in its six games without Ball, a number so atrocious it might make Byron Scott blush.
“He’s a big part of it. He’s so much more than just a talented player for us. He’s a guy, like we’ve said all along, he makes his teammates better. That’s why our organization is so high on him. From the center position to the shooting guard position, everyone plays better when he’s out there,” Walton said of the impact Ball being out has had on the defense and team.
The obvious gain of having Ball back on the court is what he brings to the hardwood on offense, but it should be a big boost for the defense as well.
“One of the surprising strengths Lonzo’s had for us this year is his defense as well. His size, his length, his anticipation, he gets deflections for us,” Walton said. “We’ve missed him a lot, but we still should’ve been doing a job without him on the floor.”
Having Ball back in the fold won’t magically solve the Lakers’ issues that are currently running deep enough to have Kyle Kuzma stating the team has taken “five steps back,” but his return has to be worth at least two steps forward in the right direction.
Until the next update, keep your fingers crossed for a return Friday. The Lakers should have a clear answer about Ball’s status following morning shootaround.
- All quotes transcribed via Lakers.com, stats via NBA.com