Forty-one days after injuring his left knee in Dallas, Lonzo Ball returned to game action against the same Dallas Mavericks team on Friday night at STAPLES Center in a game that never felt like a contest.
The Los Angeles Lakers won by a final count of 124-102, and that final score fully represented the difference between the two teams on the night.
For the first time in his career, Ball did not start the game, but LA jumped out to an 8-0 lead before fans could even get comfortable in their seats. Six minutes into the game, the Lakers led by 15, and that lead expanded to 19 points in the first quarter.
By halftime, the Lakers led by 22 points with Julius Randle and Brandon Ingram dominating the flow of the game and keeping the Lakers comfortably ahead of the Mavericks. Ingram would finish with 15 points, nine rebounds and three assists in 29 minutes on the court, and the 20-year-old forward seemed to grow longer on the defensive side of the ball.
Midway through the first quarter, both Isaiah Thomas and Ball entered the game at the same time, and the STAPLES Center crowd serenaded the two guards with a loud ovation. Despite joining the Lakers 15 days earlier, Thomas had not played at home due to three straight away games and the All Star break, and Ball's six weeks on the sidelines almost felt like the team had added a new player.
Thomas finished the night with 17 points on 5-12 shooting from the field, while Ball filled the box score in his typical fashion with nine points, seven rebounds and six assists in 17 minutes on the court. The rookie point guard was on a minutes restriction, and Walton admitted that he left a couple minutes on the table.
"I feel pretty good," Ball said after the game. "I only played 17 minutes so it wasn't nothing [sic] crazy out there. I'm just happy to be back."
Though Walton ruled the rookie out for Sacramento's game on Saturday, the former UCLA Bruin should be back on the court on Sunday in Atlanta. Ball admitted that his timing felt a little off but said that would return with time. Also, the 20-year-old said he liked the combination of two playmakers on the court when playing with Thomas in tandem.
This day, though, belonged to Randle. Through three quarters, the powerful forward had tabbed 18 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists in 27 minutes on the court. With the Lakers leading by 19 points after three quarters, Randle returning to grab a fifth career triple-double seemed unlikely.
However, Lakers coach Luke Walton called on his big forward to go back in the game with about seven and a half minutes remaining and the Lakers sitting on a comfortable 20-point cushion.
After the game, Randle admitted that he knew exactly where he stood statistically. The forward made fun of rookie Kyle Kuzma missing a layup that would have been assist no. 9. However, Randle found Kuzma open at the three-point line soon after, and the rookie forward drained a three-pointer to get Randle within one assist of the statistical achievement.
Moments later, Randle found Ingram for another three-pointer, and Randle recorded his fifth career triple-double with 18 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists in 30 minutes of work.
"I won't take anything--now," Ingram joked when asked what Randle owed him for hitting that shot.
Ingram added, "The good thing about Julius is when he's really big in the paint, I don't think no one can stop him. I think when he attacks and he's the aggressor for our team, I don't think he can be stopped down low."
No. 30 had himself a memorable night and got a loud ovation when Walton subbed him out of the game on the next dead ball after grabbing his triple-double.
"Teams are doubling me in the post, so I just try to be patient and make the right reads," Randle said after the game.
On the topic of Randle, Walton shared his view of why the forward was so successful on this night: "He's been getting much better at letting the game slow down to him. We've been working a lot on him because he's been starting to get double-teamed in the last few games, and especially last time in Dallas they started doubling him every time. So, we've been working on him playing at a better pace once he gets into attack mode, and then getting reps in practice, recognizing the double team and knowing where our shooters are going to be and where our cutters are coming from."
The coach concluded, "I think (Randle) just did a really nice job tonight of reading the defense and making the simply play, and then, guys knocked down shots for him."
Next, the Lakers head to Sacramento on Saturday night. Ball is not expected to play on the back-to-back.
Notes: Harrison Barnes and Wesley Matthews both scored 19 points to lead the Mavs. Dallas made 19-42 three-pointers on the night, but the Lakers outscored Dallas 62-26 in the painted area. Ivica Zubac finished with 14 points on 6/7 shooting, along with six rebounds in 18 minutes off the bench.