Words by Jiggy Jones
Lonzo Ball didn’t expect his birthday to end like this. In a Friday night loss against the Toronto Raptors, Lakers coach Luke Walto benched Ball and the Lakers’ starters Brandon Ingram, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Brook Lopez and Larry Nance Jr. for a lack of defensive effort. This occurred twice. The first time was in the third quarter when the Lakers failed to get back in transition. The second time occurred with just under four minutes left to go while they were down eight, which was still a winnable game.
“I took the starters out a little early in the third because they didn’t get back in transition defense, which is our No. 1 key to being a good defensive team,” said Walton after the game. “Unfortunately, we didn’t get back on defense again. To let them know how serious we are about transition defense, we pulled them out again.”
This is probably the first time Lonzo Ball had ever been benched in his entire life. In a game where the Lakers blew a 17-point lead in the first half, Walton felt the starters did not have the desire to win the game. A win would have put the Lakers above the .500 mark for the first time this season. Many have referred to this Lakers team as “the baby Lakers” due to their youth in age and experience. To lead a playoff team Raptors by double-digits is definitely worth a continuation of effort because basketball is a game of runs.
The 2017 2nd overall pick turned 20 on Friday. Kyle Lowry and Raptors spoiled a win as a present by defeating the Lakers 101-92. Ball finished the game with 5 points, 7 rebounds and six assists. He has flirted with a triple double in a couple of games this season and has 10 chances left to surpass Lebron James, as the youngest to record a triple-double in the NBA. James completed the milestone in 2005 at 20 years and 20 days old.
As for Luke Walton’s message to his starting core, he hopes it was heard.