Lonzo Ball’s first game came with lots of hype, rookie learning experiences

Associated Press
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ANAHEIM — For the first time more than a year, a Lakers game felt like an event.

For a meaningless preseason game, a hockey building was sold out — 18,000 people filled The Honda Center. Magic Johnson was sitting courtside waiving to fans and signing autographs — but not as many as LaVar Ball, who had a massive line of people wanting selfies with him. Pretty much the entire Buss family —˘ including fired Jim Buss, the former head of Lakers’ basketball operations, in his trademark baseball cap — sat on the sideline.

It was all about Lonzo Ball.

When Ball did just about anything — simply get introduced (the loudest cheers by far), or hit a three or pick up a dime— the SoCal crowd erupted. It felt like familiar old times for Lakers fans.

“To me, it feels right,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said. “I mean that’s what it’s supposed to be like. I was a little shocked last year (when the building was about half full) because when I played I was always playing with Kobe so we had crowds like this everywhere we went in preseason. Last year going around, obviously, the arenas were half full.”

Not anymore. Lonzo and the Lakers sold out Summer League games in Las Vegas in July, and they sold out a preseason game against Minnesota in Anaheim. That hype and buzz around the Lakers are back.

It’s just going to take some time for Lonzo and the team to catch up with the hype.

The Lakers lost to Minnesota 108-99, and when the Timberwolves leaned on their best players, they dominated. It was a sloppy, choppy preseason game but the Lakers looked like a young team with a lot to learn.

Ball wasn’t terrible, but he wasn’t good either. He finished with 5 points on 2-of-9 shooting with eight assists. He is dynamic pushing the ball ahead and when he is on the court bigs run the floor hard looking to get rewarded — it changes the culture of the team. Ball’s passes ahead were smarter and less risky than what he was able to get away with in Summer League. When Ball is on the court, there is an energy about the team that is just different.

However, at times — especially as the Timberwolves’ veteran defenders started to adjust — Ball forced passes rather than take shots when he drove, and made some other rough decisions.

“He’s so unselfish that sometimes he has good shots for himself and he tries to get someone else a shot — we want him taking those,” Walton said. “Players and scouts in this league are going to know he wants to play make so, we’re looking for him to be more aggressive as a scorer with the ball, especially early on, then as defenses adjust, play make.”

“He’s right…” Ball said. “I think it’s gonna come with time. It’s my first time playing against somebody else with this group. The way I like to play is to get my teammates involved first, but Luke is right, if my shot’s open I got to take it.”

One of those forced passes was his first play of the game, attempted alley-oop to Larry Nance Jr. that Minnesota read and broke up.

“That was a play, probably should have threw it a little higher, I know Larry can go get it,” Ball said.

The youngster also needs to work on recognizing when to push it, and when to just get into the offense.

“We want to play faster this year, but what we also struggle with, what’s an ongoing process, is when nothing’s available then we want to be a motion offense team where the ball is moving side-to-side,” Walton said. “We don’t want to just jack up quick shots. We want to play fast when the opportunity is there but we need to get better at recognizing when it’s not there and getting into the flow of an offense.”

While Walton did the good coach thing and praised the rookie’s defense, he struggled at times on that end. Lonzo looked like a rookie on defense, struggling over picks, not being able to handle Jeff Teague in space, and occasionally getting pushed around physically — Minnesota posted Jimmy Butler on him a couple of times, and Ball is not strong enough to stop him.

The things Ball struggled with are the things all rookies are going to struggle with. It’s a massive leap to the NBA. But you can see his potential, and with him the potential of the Lakers.

Which is why there is a lot of buzz around this team. Again.

PBT Podcast: Timberwolves without KAT, get Luka some help

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Minnesota has stumbled out of the gate this season, and now they will be without Karl-Anthony Towns for around a month with a calf strain. Just how much trouble are the Timberwolves in?

Corey Robinson from NBC Sports and myself discuss that and then get into Giannis Antetokounmpo‘s Team USA vs. Team World matchup — does Evan Fournier get the world team in trouble? Who guards whom?

From there, it’s time for Corey’s Jukebox and some New Orleans jazz for Zion Williamson. Some Mavericks’ talk follows that — Dallas has put a big load on the shoulders of Luka Doncic, and while he’s playing like an MVP it’s a long-term concern for the Mavericks and their fans.

You can always watch the video of some of the podcast above, or listen to the entire podcast below, listen and subscribe via iTunes at ApplePodcasts.com/PBTonNBC, subscribe via the fantastic Stitcher app, check us out on Google Play, or anywhere else you get your podcasts.

We want your questions for future podcasts, and your comments, so please feel free to email us at PBTpodcast@gmail.com.

LeBron calls out reporters for asking him about Kyrie Irving but not Jerry Jones

Indiana Pacers v Los Angeles Lakers
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Within days of Kyrie Irving being suspended by the Nets in the wake of a Tweet promoting an antisemitic film (and his initial refusal to apologize for it), Irving’s former teammate LeBron James was asked about it. He had to deal with the controversy, saying, “I don’t condone any hate to any kind. To any race.”

At the end of his press conference Wednesday night after the Lakers beat the Trail Blazers, LeBron scolded the assembled press for not asking him about the 1957 photo that surfaced of Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones outside North Little Rock High School while white students protested the integration of the school when they had been quick to ask about Irving.

“When I watched Kyrie talk, and he says, `I know who I am, but I want to keep the same energy when we’re talking about my people and the things they’ve been through,’ and that Jerry Jones photo is one of those moments that our people, Black people, have been through in America. And I feel like as a Black man, as a Black athlete, someone with power and with a platform, when we do something wrong or something that people don’t agree with, it’s on every single tabloid, every single news coverage. It’s on the bottom ticker. It’s asked about every single day.

“But it seems like to me that the whole Jerry Jones situation, the photo, and I know it was years and years ago, and we all make mistakes, I get it. It seems like it’s just been buried under, like, `Oh, it happened. OK. We just move on.’ And I was just kind of disappointed that I haven’t received that question from you guys.”

Irving and LeBron were teammates in Cleveland and won a ring together, there was a direct connection (plus Irving had been linked to the Lakers in trade rumors over the summer).

However, there was a connection between LeBron and the Cowboys as well. LeBron was for many years a very public Cowboys fan (despite growing up in Browns territory). It came up as recently as October, when LeBron was on Instagram Live promoting his HBO show with Maverick Carter “The Shop” and he said he had stopped rooting for the Cowboys in the wake of Colin Kaepernick’s peaceful protests, “There’s just a lot of things that were going on when guys were kneeling. Guys were having freedom of speech and wanting to do it in a very peaceful manner…. The organization was like, ‘If you do that around here, then you will never play for this franchise again.’ I just didn’t think that was appropriate.”

When asked about the photo, Jones said he was a curious 14-year-old who was watching and didn’t understand the magnitude of the moment or situation.

Watch Russell Westbrook drain two buzzer-beaters against Blazers

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The Portland Trail Blazers had to know it was not their night when Russell Westbrook knocked down a buzzer-beating step-back 3-pointer just before the half.

Westbrook wasn’t done, he had one more buzzer-beater in him at the end of the third.

Westbrook wasn’t the only guy in the building draining half-courters — for the second-straight game a Laker fan knocked down a half-court shot, this time to win $25,000.

It was a good night all around for the Lakers and their fans at home against the shorthanded Trail Blazers. They got 31 points from LeBron James, plus 27 points and 12 boards from Anthony Davis. Austin Reaves added in 22, and the Lakers took control in the third and cruised in for a needed win.

NBA plans for 2023-24 include in-season tournament (if approved)

2022 NBA Finals - NBA Commissioner Adam Silver Press Conference
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The NBA is planning for the inaugural version of its in-season tournament – should it become reality – to begin early next season, according to a memo sent to teams.

If the tournament is approved, 80 regular-season games for each team would be announced in August, with two more games set to be scheduled depending on which eight teams make the tournament’s knockout stage. Those games would be added in-season to the schedule.

NBA Commissioner Adam Silver has pushed for the past several years for the in-season event to be added. Talks have gone on about it since at least 2016, and in 2019 the league even created a proposal in which teams would play eight divisional games in the group stage, followed by quarterfinals for the top eight clubs and then semifinals and finals at a neutral site in December.

That evidently remains the footprint. Teams, in Wednesday’s memo, were told to plan for tournament quarterfinal games in early December 2023 – again, the caveat being that the event has yet to be approved.

“It’s something that I remain excited about,” Silver said in September. “I think it continues to be an opportunity within the current footprint of our season to create some more meaningful games, games of consequence, during an otherwise long regular season. … I think fans might really ultimately enjoy another competition during the season, some sort of cup competition. Certainly not rising to the level of the Larry O’Brien Trophy, yet something else significant to play for.”

Silver has often compared the notion of an in-season tournament to what is commonly seen in European soccer.

“It’s all about fan interest,” Denver coach Michael Malone said Wednesday night. “I know they do this a lot in soccer around the world, these in-season tournaments. I don’t know how it’s going to work, the details of it. But if it’s good for the game and the league supports it, obviously all 30 teams and all 30 head coaches will be on board as well. ”

The scheduling process for next season starts with teams telling the league what dates their home arena is available. The NBA wants that list by Dec. 9; the process continues for the next several months.

Wednesday’s memo included clarity on several key dates for the 2023-24 season. Training camps will begin on Tuesday, Oct. 3 for most teams, except those participating in overseas preseason games; they can open camp on Saturday, Sept. 30.

The season begins Oct. 24 and ends April 14, 2024. The play-in tournament will be April 16-19, 2024, and that means that season’s playoffs would begin on April 20.