But something was different on Tuesday evening. Ball was cashing almost every shot he took. From different spots around the 3-point line. Pull-ups and catch-and-shoot attempts. It didn’t matter what kind of shot, he was abnormally unconscious from distance.
However, because warm-ups are a notoriously fickle indicator of whether a player is going to have success that night or not, I didn’t think too much of it, even indicating in my caption of my video of a portion of the display that it probably meant nothing.
Pregame shooting doesn't always mean anything but here is video of Lonzo hitting a bunch of threes anyway. pic.twitter.com/6UwkvfwIoe— Harrison Faigen (@hmfaigen) January 16, 2019
Well, call Old Takes Exposed, because it turns out it meant something. Ball went out and set the nets ablaze against the Bulls, dropping 19 points to go with 8 rebounds, 6 assists and 2 steals in the Lakers’ 107-100 win.
”I was feeling it. I was open. I thought I missed some good looks in the first half and just kept shooting,” Ball said. “It was kinda like I had to. It was a must win today. I knew I had to pick up.
“Last game I didn’t get it done for us, so this time I tried to.”
He succeeded, and Ball’s efforts included a particularly hot stretch in which he scored 11 straight points in the third quarter to help the Lakers pull ahead, a sequence that ended up being the difference in the game after the Bulls made a late rally to get the final score closer than it otherwise would’ve been.
“He’s got a knack for hitting big shots. Whether it’s practice or not, he’s not afraid to knock down a three when we need it,” Walton said.
Perhaps more meaningful than Ball making those shots, however, was that he even took them in the first place. Ball’s 17 shots against the Bulls were the most field goals he’s attempted in a game this year, but what really impressed Walton was the types of shots Ball was getting.
“It was great watching him get to the rim and continuing to feel more confident and comfortable doing it. He’s a big guard. You start to really see what he can do when he gets there as far as drawing contact and still being able to have his balance and finish,” Walton said.
Walton praised how much Ball had improved his touch around the paint, something that Ball has been working with Rajon Rondo with after Lakers practices, as — to the shock of no one — Rondo is still finding a way to try and help his team win even while recovering from a broken hand.
Still, the fact that a veteran who could be competing with Ball for minutes is instead trying to help him reach his full potential hasn’t been lost on Ball.
“His time, I appreciate 100 percent. He doesn’t have to do that but he helps me out a lot,” Ball said.
The fruits of their labor were obvious against Chicago, but without letting the extra energy expenditure sap what Ball has been able to do since he came into the league — lock down on defense.
“His energy carried throughout the game and into the fourth quarter. I thought he was huge for us,” said veteran center Tyson Chandler, specifically praising the way Ball picked up full-court defensively.
The first impulse for some is going to be to discredit Ball’s production as meaningful because it came against one of the worst and most dysfunctional NBA teams in recent memory. That’s a fair point of skepticism, but Ball’s increasing confidence showed in other ways as well, ways that might indicate he’s blossoming into the floor general the Lakers hope he can become.
Chandler, who along with Rondo and LeBron James has been imploring Ball and the rest of the young Lakers to be vocal, cited a specific instance where he set a screen for Ball and didn’t get enough separation from his defender. Ball got the turnover, and he quickly let Chandler know that couldn’t happen again.
“He came to me and was like ‘I need you to get off of your guy because I’m looking for you.’ Little things like that are huge for his growth, his confidence,” Chandler said. “When he’s talking like that out there it just helps the game flow even better.”
Ball, as he usually does, didn’t want to take full credit for his impact.
“It’s not just me. I try to bring my energy and it usually feeds off on the team,” Ball said.
And if there is one positive takeaway from the Lakers’ recent stretch without James — and given how bad they’ve looked, there may literally only be one — it’s what Ball just said. The Lakers can use Ball as a motor at times, because when he’s aggressive and hitting his shots, it changes games for the team. They just need him to actually have the confidence and will to go do it, both of which he displayed against the Bulls. The Lakers will need more of both going forward if they want to stay afloat in the playoff race and keep their coach employed.
“He’s huge. For Zo, it’s that he does all the intangibles. He does everything for the team. Defensively, making plays, rebounding. He’s one of those guards that can take over the game without filling up the stats sheet,” Chandler said. “Tonight he carried us a lot offensively, which I think is huge for us and I think it’s what got us over the hump.”
For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. All stats per NBA.com and Basketball-Reference.com. You can follow Harrison on Twitter at @hmfaigen.