LOS ANGELES — Welcome to the NBA Lonzo Ball. Guys are gunning for you.
“He’s a great talent, but he’s got to go through the tough times. I just had to set the tone,” the Clippers’ Patrick Beverley said of his physical play on Ball from the opening tip. “I told him after the game, due to all the riffraff his dad brings he’s going to get a lot of people coming at him. He’s got to be ready for that, and I let him know after the game…
“(I had to) welcome his little young a** to the NBA.”
Beverley said a lot more than that.
Beverly is known as a physical defender who talks a lot and tries to get under the skin of opponents. Throw in an overhyped rookie — one who other players feel hasn’t earned his place yet, one with a Facebook reality show, one with a father who talks a lot — and you get the full Beverley treatment from the opening tip.
Maybe Snoop Dogg put it best, as he often does.
Both Lakers coach Luke Walton and team president Magic Johnson said they warned Ball what was coming, but words don’t always do justice to the reality of a guy in your grill all night.
In the second quarter, Beverley stole the ball from Ball from Ball shouted “first team!” three times while holding up his index finger — a reference to him being First Team All-Defense last season.
Thing is, it wasn’t just Beverley. When he sat Austin Rivers had the Ball defensive assignment, and on a couple of occasions Ball tried to drive past Rivers but couldn’t. All night long a Clippers team that always prioritizes getting back in transition took away the look-ahead passes that Ball was known for over the summer (he had a couple, but there were few opportunities).
Ball sat the entire fourth quarter and finished the night 1-of-6 shooting with four assists and nine rebounds. The Lakers were blown out by Beverley’s Clippers 108-92, a game the Clippers led by 30 at one point.
To his credit, Ball handled it well.
“He plays 94 feet,” Ball said of Beverley. “That’s what you’re supposed to do. He’s a good defender. I just tried to do what I can.”
“It was good for (Lonzo),” Walton said of the rough first night. “Beverley is as good as anyone, if not the best, at the point guard position of getting into other people and getting under their skin. I thought Zo kept his composure.”
Ball is going to need that composure over a long season — Beverley is right, other guys will come at him. Lonzo’s father LaVar wrote a lot of checks with his mouth this summer — he called out LeBron James, Stephen Curry, and others — that will come due on Lonzo. There are more learning experiences ahead for the rookie, especially on a young Lakers team without nearly enough shooting around him to create the space he needs for his passing to thrive.
However, hold his own this season, improve, and keep that composure and he will win over NBA players. Respect is earned in the league, and Ball is just starting that process as far as other teams are concerned.