Staples Center will host two notable UCLA alumni on Wednesday in Lonzo Ball of the Los Angeles Lakers and Russell Westbrook of the Oklahoma City Thunder, two players who have yet to face each other in the NBA.
Ball missed 30 games during his rookie season with the Lakers, including all four of the Lakers’ matchups with the Thunder. At shootaround on Wednesday, Ball told reporters that he’s looking forward to going head-to-head with the former league MVP for the first time on Wednesday (via Matthew Moreno of Lakers Nation):
“He’s one of the best players in the league. It’s going to be a good challenge. Just going to play as hard as I can,” Ball said of his first career matchup with Westbrook. “He’s a great player. He’s going to try to help his team win, I’m going to try to help my team.”
Very few players in the NBA play with the same intensity that Westbrook does, and even fewer have his unique combination of size and speed. Ball will have his work cut out for him, especially since Rajon Rondo is still sidelined.
The key for Ball defensively will be cutting off lanes to the basket for Westbrook. That’s easier said than done, but if Ball can force Westbrook to settle for jumpers, he’s less of a threat offensively. On the season, Westbrook is shooting 42.6 percent from the field and 24.1 percent from behind the arc, two percent short of his career-low.
Offensively, Ball will have to be more of a threat off of the ball. Westbrook is a pesky on-ball defender, but he can be caught sleeping off-ball. Expect head coach Luke Walton to use Ball as more of a cutter on Wednesday.
It might be Ball’s first matchup with Westbrook, but the Lakers need him to be at his best if they want to upset the Thunder. Hopefully he can rise to the challenge.