Ball leads Lakers into clash with Knicks
NEW YORK — While LaVar Ball brings his traveling circus to the Big Apple with a Big Baller Brand pop-up shop in Manhattan, Lonzo Ball and the Los Angeles Lakers bring a two-game winning streak into a Tuesday night matchup with the New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden.
The Knicks will get their first look of the season at the most divisive NBA rookie in decades, along with another Lakers rookie — Kyle Kuzma — who is drawing reviews.
It is Lonzo drawing the attention, however, though he is averaging just 8.6 points to go along with 7.1 assists and 6.8 rebounds. Kuzma, drafted 25 spots below No. 2 pick Ball, is averaging 16.0 points and 6.7 rebounds off the bench for the Lakers (10-15).
“I think every kid dreams about playing there (at Madison Square Garden),” Ball told the Orange County Register on Monday following the Lakers’ practice at Baruch College, “just because of all the history there and all the battles that go on there.”
The Knicks (13-13) are also getting inspired play in recent weeks from their first-round pick, Frank Ntilikina. The point guard is averaging 8.4 points in December after averaging 4.7 points in October and November combined.
Along with the development of second-year guard Ron Baker, who played 31 minutes Sunday in New York’s 111-107 win over the Atlanta Hawks, the Knicks are getting some quality minutes from their youngsters.
Of course, no young New York player is getting as much love as talented big man Kristaps Porzingis, who is still just 22 — two years younger than Baker — despite being in the third month of his third NBA season.
Porzingis, averaging 25.5 points, is under scrutiny, but not as much as Ball.
“(Ball) has all this attention, and I don’t know if he wants it that much,” Porzingis told the New York Post on Monday. “But it’s hard to be in his skin. It’s hard to imagine being in his skin. He has real talent, and I think as he gets more comfortable in the league, he will be just fine.”
Ball may be getting the magnifying glass, but it is Kuzma who might soon get the spotlight.
The Utah product has double-doubles in three of the team’s past four games, his best stretch of the season in that regard.
Kuzma had 12 points and 14 rebounds in 32 minutes in the Lakers’ 110-99 win over the Charlotte Hornets on Saturday, a game in which the Los Angeles bench outplayed the team’s starters. Jordan Clarkson, Ball’s backup, had perhaps his best game of the season with 22 points, six assists and five rebounds, including 14 points in the fourth quarter.
“I thought JC had maybe the best quarter I’ve ever seen him play,” Los Angeles coach Luke Walton said. “They kept switching their defense up and he just kept taking what the defense gave him, which is what you want to do as you mature in this league. I thought he did a really nice job handling himself down the stretch.”