LOS ANGELES — In his first game back from injury after nearly six weeks off, Lonzo Ball came off the bench and still had to wait a little bit longer before he could play.
The Los Angeles Lakers rookie drew an unusual delay of game whistle from officials for not getting his warmup top off as he walked onto the court. Other than that, Ball’s return after a 15-game absence due to a sprained left MCL injury went off without a hitch.
Playing for the first time since Jan. 13, Ball looked fresh and had nine points, seven rebounds and six assists to go with two turnovers in 17 minutes as the Lakers snapped a three-game slide with a 124-102 rout of the Dallas Mavericks.
“I feel pretty good, only played 17 minutes so nothing crazy out there,” Ball said. “… [There was] nothing restricting. I could feel [the MCL] but the doc says I can get no worse. Just [felt it] sliding a little bit, especially going right. Other than that it was OK.”
While Ball — who will not play on Saturday in the Lakers’ second of a back-to-back set at Sacramento as the team takes a cautious approach with their rookie — filled the box score like he has done often this season, teammate Julius Randle collected his fifth career triple-double with 18 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists against the Mavs.
With Ball playing in his first game back since Jan. 13, Luke Walton brought the No. 2 overall pick off the bench for the first time. Walton opted to keep Brandon Ingram as the starting point guard with Ingram (15 points and nine rebounds) playing very well there since Walton started him at point eight games ago while Ball was out.
Also, the Lakers coach decided to see how Ball and new addition Isaiah Thomas would play together for the first time this season. Walton sent Thomas and then Ball in together for the first time with 6:01 remaining in the first quarter and fans greeted both point guards with cheers. That was when Ball drew the delay of game whistle.
“I forgot that I had my shirt on over the warmup and I was trying to zip it and it wasn’t going down and so I had to take it off,” Ball explained. The Staples Center crowd had not seen Ball in uniform in a home game since Jan. 11 after he sprained his left MCL in the very next game at Dallas.
This was also the first time the home crowd got to see Thomas in a Lakers uniform after the guard played his first three Lakers games on the road following his trade from Cleveland. Thomas scored 17 points and drilled a buzzer-beating 18-foot rainbow over Yogi Ferrell at the end of the third quarter. Ball had spring to his step after the long layoff and his jumper didn’t show much rust. He knocked down his first shot, a 25-foot 3-pointer and made three-of-his-first-five 3-point attempts and 3-of-8 shots overall. It was the 10th time in his last 12 games played that Ball has buried two or more 3-pointers in a game.
“I thought he looked good, I thought his shot looked good,” said Walton, who played Ball a total of three minutes in the fourth with the Lakers up by 21 early in the quarter. “… We finished within his minutes restriction. We had a couple more to go in case that game got close again, we were going to save a couple of minutes.
“He will be out tomorrow and get treatment and let his body kind of recover and we will see how he feels and if he feels good he will get to the gym early tomorrow and get a workout in.”
Ball played all his minutes alongside Thomas and Walton said he saw the ball move the way he envisioned with the two point guards on the floor. They combined to account for 10 of the Lakers’ 32 assists.
“We are just two basketball players who know how to make plays,” Thomas said. “He is a smart basketball player, even watching from afar. He is a guy that likes to push the pace and likes to get everybody involved and I’m a guy that likes to figure it out on the fly. I think we can play really well together because we do different things at a high level.”
If all goes as expected with Ball’s knee, the next game the rookie will play will be at Atlanta on Monday.
“I liked it a lot,” Ball said of playing with Thomas. “Two playmakers on the court, I think we benefit from it. Look forward to playing with him all the time.”