Lonzo Ball and the Los Angeles Lakers are heading into their latest matchup with the Dallas Mavericks with about as much momentum as a broken-down car being pushed uphill.
Currently 1-5 since LeBron James went down, Ball and the rest of the Lakers have looked mostly pretty bad without their star (and, to a lesser but still significant extent, without Kyle Kuzma and Rajon Rondo).
Kuzma may be back against the Mavericks (he’s listed as questionable), but after the Lakers lost to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday, Ball told reporters that regardless of who is in or out of the lineup, he has to score more (via Spectrum Sportsnet):
“We’re down a lot of scorers right now, so I’ve got to pick up that load. Obviously I didn’t do that tonight, I’ve got to pick it up tomorrow,” Ball said.
Ball has tried to pick it up, but only somewhat. His usage rate has gone up 0.5 percent over the six games James has missed, and he’s taken 1.5 more shots per game over that same span.
That’s... not enough, and it’s good that Ball recognizes that. It’s not really fair that the Lakers are asking him and Brandon Ingram to be completely different players in larger roles while also seeing more defensive attention than ever, but it’s a request necessitated by the team’s injury woes.
Whether Kuzma is back or not, the Lakers need more scoring from Ball, even if it’s not going to be easy for him. If he can’t do it, they’ll likely post their sixth loss in the last seven games, a scenario Ball and the team are hoping to avoid:
“Everybody in here wants to win. We know we’re losing a lot of games,” Ball said. “But we’ve got to turn it around. Tomorrow’s a back-to-back, so we’ll flush this one and get back at it tomorrow.”
Whether or not the Lakers can get back on track in Dallas will depend not just on if Ball can step up his scoring or if Kuzma returns, but also if Brandon Ingram can continue to prove to be the Luka Doncic stopper he’s been over the Lakers’ first two games against Dallas.
Doncic is one of the most productive rookies in recent history and deserves all the praise he’s getting for his play this season, but he’s looked merely average against the Lakers in large part due to Ingram.
In the Mavericks’ two prior games against L.A., Doncic has seen his averages drop from 19.4 points, 6.7 rebounds and 4.9 assists on 43.1 percent shooting to 10 points and 5.5 rebounds (his assists have went up to 6) on 29.2 percent shooting.
Will Ingram have the energy to play such hounding defense on Doncic while being asked to shoulder more of the scoring load in James’ absence? Will any of the Lakers’ starters actually try during the first quarter for the first time in two games?
The answers to those questions won’t be solely the result of how much Ball can step up as a scorer, but him chipping in a few more buckets would certainly help. We’ll see if he can back up his talk when the Lakers take on Mavericks in Dallas at 5:30 PST on Spectrum Sportsnet.
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