Lakers’ Ball to face Cavaliers’ James for first time
CLEVELAND — There has been speculation, and it will come again, maybe soon, that LeBron James and Lonzo Ball could be teammates next summer.
On Thursday, though, James and Ball will compete against each other for the first time when the Cleveland Cavaliers host the Los Angeles Lakers.
“We have to get back in transition, I know that,” James said, speaking of how his Cavs will have to prepare for Ball. “He’s going to push the ball and he’s going to throw it ahead and if we jog back, then they’ll make us pay with a lot of their guys that love to run the floor — (Kentavious) Caldwell-Pope, (Kyle) Kuzma, Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle and the rest of those guys. So, he’s always looking ahead.”
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The Cavs are rolling, winners of 15 of their last 16 games. James, in his 15th season and 11th with the Cavs, is putting up MVP numbers — sitting third in the NBA in scoring (28.3 points per game) and assists (9.0).
Ball, 20, is a rookie on the Lakers who in November passed James as the youngest player to record a triple-double. He’s averaging 8.9 points, 6.9 rebounds and 7.0 assists, but Los Angeles has lost six of its last eight games.
James can be a free agent at season’s end, and though he reiterated in September that his intention is to finish his career in Cleveland, he’ll assess his situation when the Cavs are done in 2018.
James currently has two homes (he’ll sell one) in Los Angeles, and his business interests are headquartered there. But the Lakers remain far away from being a contender, they play in the same conference as the Golden State Warriors, and there is at least one big distraction on the Lakers now.
Ball’s dad, LaVar, who has actually quarreled with James in the past, has been so critical of Lakers coach Luke Walton publicly that Lakers executives called a meeting with him to ask that he knock it off.
James said he likes Lonzo Ball, though.
“The kid hasn’t said anything,” James said, according to ESPN. “It’s been everybody else. So, I love his humility. He goes out, every time someone asks him a question, he says, ‘This is not about me, man. I just want to win. I don’t care about what I did.’ I seen he had a triple-double one game and they lost. He was like, ‘I don’t care. We lost.'”
Ball, speaking to reporters in New York on Tuesday, said he used to have a poster of James on his wall.
“In my opinion, he is the best player in the world,” Ball said. “I just feel like he plays the game the right way. He probably can easily go out for 50 every night but focuses on his team, getting triple-doubles and (getting) guys involved. It is my first time playing him, I am looking forward to it, should be a lot of fun.”
Ball, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2017 draft, has “a lot of pressure on him,” Walton said, according to the New York Times.
“And that’s just from being a starting point guard for the L.A. Lakers as a rookie,” Walton said. “Obviously with how big he is in the social media world that exists now, everything that he does gets scrutinized by everybody.”
For the Cavs, Dwyane Wade missed Tuesday’s win over Atlanta with left knee soreness, and his status will be updated Thursday.
Cleveland has won six straight over the Lakers, the longest streak for the Cavs over L.A. in franchise history.