Laker fans looking for a reason to get excited during Summer League play could find that and more on Wednesday night, as Lonzo Ball took the court by storm and led the Lakers squad to a dramatic comeback 103-102 win over the Philadelphia 76ers in Las Vegas’ Thomas & Mack Center.
Ball, as ESPN noted, hit the court in a pair of purple Kobe Bryant signature shoes from Nike, foregoing his usual Big Baller Brand kicks. Asked why he wasn’t wearing his own fledgling shoe line, Ball said simply, “Mamba Mentality.” Whether it was the shoes or the mentality, it appeared to work. In his third outing as a Laker, Ball surpassed even the surprising bounce back performance he put in in his last game, wherein he lodged a triple-double in a loss. This time around, Lonzo still looked to distribute, tallying 11 assists to go along with eight rebounds. The main focus for the young face of the Lakers franchise, though, was on the scoring end.
Aggressive all night, Ball topped off his impressive dime and board numbers with an explosive 36 points. Three of those points came in the final half-minute as the Laker guard drove the lane, got fouled, and made a shot, with the three-point play putting his squad up one over the 76ers. Two clutch late free throws from Lakers center Ivica Zubac sealed the deal.
Laker lovers concerned about Ball’s shooting can breathe a little easier, but only a little. Ball wasn’t exactly on fire from downtown in this game, going three of 10 from beyond the arc against Philadelphia, but he shot 12 of 22 overall and nine of 12 from the foul line.
Laker fans might, though, be more interested in seeing how Ball looked in the assist category, and Lonzo did not disappoint. The night saw an array of dishes from the No. 2 overall pick, including one touchdown pass outlet that soared 80 feet in the air to land perfectly in Kyle Kuzma’s hands for a fast break dunk. That one came just one possession after a previous pretty dime in which Lonzo again hooked up with Kuzma from halfcourt for a layup.
So it looks like Lonzo has shaken off the first game jitters, and it’s not like Laker fans have too much else to think about, so with Lonzo stringing together two stellar outings, is it too early to start thinking NBA Playoffs for the new-look Lakers?
In a word: Probably.
Even with Lonzo showing signs of the potential that made Laker legend Magic Johnson take him with the overall second pick, even with Brandon Ingram looking spry, aggressive, and determined in limited minutes this summer, and even with the addition of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and the possible addition of Rajon Rondo, the Lakers would have a long, hard road ahead of them to make the Playoffs in the NBA’s super-stacked Western Conference.
Still, after multiple years of bottoming out, it looks like the Lakers’ ship might be showing signs of righting itself. If he can somehow translate his Summer League performances into comparable numbers in the NBA’s regular season, Lonzo might prove to be just the sort of boost Laker fans have longed for since Father Time caught up with Kobe.
[Featured Image by Ethan Miller/Getty Images]