LOS ANGELES — While his father and President Donald Trump engage in a war of words, Los Angeles Lakers rookie point guard Lonzo Ball blocked out any distractions and collected his second career triple-double against the Denver Nuggets on Sunday.
Ball registered the triple-double with 9:32 remaining in the fourth quarter and finished with 11 points, 11 assists and a career-high 16 rebounds to go with two blocks and two turnovers in 40 minutes as the Lakers beat the Nuggets 127-109.
“This one is a lot better,” Ball said of this triple-double coming in a win in contrast to his first triple-double, which came during a loss at Milwaukee. “I actually like this one. Just keep building on it.”
Ball’s 16 rebounds are the most by a rookie this season and the most by a rookie guard since the Rockets’ Steve Francis grabbed 17 boards on Jan. 27, 2000, according to the Lakers’ media relations. He is the only player in Lakers franchise history other than Magic Johnson to post multiple triple-doubles as a rookie.
Ball, who was shooting just 30.8 percent from the field and 22.7 percent from 3-point range entering the game, had struggled recently and did not play in the fourth quarters of a win in Phoenix last Monday and a loss to the 76ers last Wednesday. But his play has improved in the past two games. He had 6 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists and 5 steals in a loss to the Suns on Friday.
Ball also recently had to deal with his brother, LiAngelo, being held with two other UCLA freshmen — Cody Riley and Jalen Hill — in China on suspicion of shoplifting while the Bruins were there to play Georgia Tech. The three UCLA players were eventually released and thanked President Trump, who raised the players’ case with Chinese President Xi Jinping during a visit to Beijing last week.
Trump had tweeted that the players should thank him prior to them doing so at a UCLA news conference. LiAngelo and Lonzo’s father, LaVar Ball, then downplayed Trump’s involvement, telling ESPN’s Arash Markazi, “Who? What was he over there for? Don’t tell me nothing. Everybody wants to make it seem like he helped me out.”
Trump fired a tweet back at LaVar on Sunday, saying LaVar “is unaccepting of what I did for his son and that shoplifting is no big deal. I should have left them in jail!”
Lakers coach Luke Walton said he talked to the Lakers rookie point guard to let him know that he and the team were there for him if he needed them in light of all that is going on around him and his family.
“He’s got more on his plate than I can ever imagine anyone having, especially at his age,” Walton said. “It is our job to be here and let him know that we support him and believe in him. I don’t know where it gets too much and how he reacts to it. I’ve made a point to talk to him and let him know, whether or not he needs it, that my belief and our team’s belief in him is 100 percent there.”
“To me it is all about the fact that we have three young college American students back at home,” Walton added. “That is the most important thing. I am not really into the whole argument back-and-forth. I am just glad they are back home and able to be with their families and get an education.”
Ball certainly had plenty of attention surrounding his game and struggles on the court recently. He went to the Lakers’ practice facility after the loss to Philadelphia to work on his shot from 11 p.m. to 1 a.m., and then created a buzz on the internet Friday with a new haircut.
Ball’s triple-double, which was completed with his 10th assist to Julius Randle (24 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists) for a 3-pointer, comes four games after he became the youngest player in NBA history to collect a triple-double when he had 19 points, 13 assists and 12 rebounds in a loss to the Bucks on Nov. 11. Ball surpassed LeBron James for that distinction by posting the triple-double at 20 years and 15 days old.
Ball and James, who was Ball’s favorite player growing up, were the same age down to the day when they recorded their second career triple-doubles (20 years, 23 days).
Afterward in the locker room, Lakers center Andrew Bogut jokingly asked Ball when he would get another haircut as the rookie was conducting his postgame interview.
Walton says he has never seen this kind of attention and hype surrounding a rookie.
“Not at this young of an age,” Walton said. “I played, obviously, with Kob [Kobe Bryant], it was a zoo everywhere we went. I coached with the Warriors, it was a zoo everywhere we went. But never with a young man that’s [Ball’s] age.
“He got a haircut and I fielded three questions on game day about his haircut. It’s impressive how he’s able to handle it. I think it’s a little bit nuts, but that’s the way it’s gonna be.”