The Lakers, stuck in the somewhat rare position of being a definite non-playoff team that also has no incentive whatsoever to lose, have, instead, been winning: they’ve now won five in a row, and seven of ten, and nine of 12, and 13 of 18, and 17 of 24. Barring a downturn over their final 20 games—a stretch that includes just five games against non-playoff contenders—the back half of this season will go down as an unqualified success.
Last night they fell behind the Spurs, in San Antonio, and trailed most of the way—at one point in the second half their deficit swelled to 17 points—before blitzing the Spurs in the final frame and walking out with a stunning four point victory. And I mean to tell you, here, that the hero of the game was young Lonzo Ball, loser of shooting contests to Bow Wow. He was great!
By far the most important part of that performance was the outside shooting, and not only because the series of threes Lonzo hit in the final three minutes of the game brought the Lakers from behind and into the lead—the only part of Lonzo’s scoring package that was realistically NBA-grade coming into this season was his funky-looking jumper, which he was at least comfortable pulling from deep range. That he has spent most of this season throwing up ugly bricks was a bad sign for his long term prospects as a real offensive engine. Hit ahead passes in transition are lovely, but eventually, in order to be the lead ball-handler for an upper echelon offense, Lonzo would need to be able to do some scoring.
The jumper was funky-looking as ever Saturday night, but it sure as hell went down. Lonzo dribbled into the three that brought the Lakers to within a point with 2:46 on the clock; 80 seconds later he spotted up around some Julius Randle interior chaos to drain the three that brought them ahead, and over a serious Danny Green contest; 40 seconds later he worked Dejounte Murray into a screen on the wing and buried another three to break a tie at 109. The first three was a shot Lonzo has to be willing to take; the second three was a shot Lonzo has to reliably make; the third one was straight onions.
This is not the first time Lonzo has shot well from beyond the arc in an NBA game—he made five of six attempts from three in a loss to the Warriors in December—and there’s no way anyone can expect the performance to sustain in the near term, but even I, a miserable curmudgeon who takes delight in the humbling of the Ball family, find myself feeling happy for Lonzo today. He’s had a shit season. He’s had to answer for his dad’s behavior clear across the damn ocean. He missed most of January and February due to injury, and watched the Lakers come to life with friggin’ Brandon Ingram playing his position. His dad boasted he was a lock for Rookie of the Year; his team’s president was talking about putting his jersey in the rafters before he’d ever even worn the damn uniform. Lonzo deals with pressure that most NBA players will never face. Even if it was just a fluky zone of can’t-miss shooting, it was nice to see Lonzo wander into it, on the road and against a very good team, and seize the moment, and do something genuinely memorable.
Now I won’t feel bad mocking the bejeezus out of him after that Lithuania rap concert.