The No. 2 and No. 5 overall picks finally played against each other as pros after two Ball injuries prevented him from facing Fox in summer league and the preseason. No one was ducking anyone as far as all those internet trolls are concerned, and the two rookie point guards had their moments before Fox’s Kings shredded the Lakers’ defense for a 113-102 win at the Golden 1 Center on Wednesday night.
“It was a lot of fun playing against him,” Ball said of Fox. “It is always fun. Everybody, the crowd loves it, the fans and stuff. So it is good for basketball. He played great tonight.”
Ball, who produced his best personal highlight of the season so far with a scintillating one-handed alley-oop dunk on Willie Cauley-Stein, finished with 11 points, 11 assists and 7 rebounds. The rookie had one of his better shooting nights going 4-for-8 from the field, including 3-of-5 from 3-point range.
Fox hit 5-of-11 shots, including two treys, and had 13 points, 4 rebounds and 3 assists.
The first meeting between the two since Kentucky’s Fox dropped 39 points on Ball and UCLA in an NCAA tournament win in the Sweet 16 almost seemed anticlimactic with both the Lakers (8-11) and Kings (5-13) rebuilding and struggling so far.
There also has been so much attention surrounding Ball around things off the court such as his brother LiAngelo’s arrest in China, President Trump’s verbal feud with Ball’s father LaVar, and even comments made by the elder Ball about how the Lakers’ coaching staff could be harder on his son.
Playing in the much smaller media market of Sacramento, Fox — and all the other rookies — has not had to deal with the same kind of attention and pressure that Ball has had.
Fox didn’t need to catch up with Ball in person before the game to know what has been going on with the Lakers rookie so far this season. Fox has seen all the hype and constant news from afar and said it’s difficult not to wake up in the morning and see on social media how Trump vs. LaVar is trending.
“With him, his family, it’s basically a famous family,” Fox said. “I was going to compare it to the Kardashians, just saying how famous the family is, not [necessarily] what you do to get famous or anything like that. They are all being watched.
“He got a haircut and people went crazy. I did my hair last year in Kentucky and people went crazy. Oh it’s not that serious. It is what it is and the life we live in.”
These two point guards are part of the internet/social media age in which everything they do, and even don’t do, draws a reaction.
This Ball-Fox meeting was supposed to happen first in July in the Las Vegas Summer League, but Ball was held out because of injury. The personable Fox jokingly tweeted a “facepalm” emoji after news of the Ball injury was reported the day of that game. Fox would later say that he was just having fun with the media.
But after Ball was held out again because of injury before a preseason meeting against Fox and the Kings, several Fox/Kings fans started a thing on the internet about how Ball was ducking Fox.
“Nah man,” Fox again reiterated about how Ball was not trying to avoid playing him. “If you’re in, especially the summer league thing, if you’re hurt, why play, why risk anything. It’s funny. Social media you see a lot of small things like that blow up.”
No one knows this more than Ball, who can’t get a haircut without it going viral the way it did last week. Things, though, might be calming down a bit with Ball’s play becoming steadier. In his past three games, Ball is averaging 10 points, 12 rebounds and 8.6 assists while also making six-of-17 3-pointers, which certainly is an uptick from his 23 percent 3-point shooting average entering the Sacramento game.
Corey Brewer waits for Lonzo Ball to run the back screen and lobs him a perfect throw, and Ball finishes with a flashy one-handed alley-oop dunk.
And while Fox started out shooting a couple of airballs and missing the rim altogether early in the game before settling down, Ball delivered his biggest dunk as a pro when he went back door, caught the Sacramento defense napping and grabbed a Corey Brewer lob with his right hand before throwing down an eye-popping alley-oop dunk all in one motion over 7-foot Willie Cauley-Stein in the second quarter.
Ball also drilled back-to-back 3s late, but the Lakers could not overcome a 20-point deficit one night after producing their biggest comeback of the season from 19 down against Chicago at home. Fox’s team came away with what mattered the most in their first meeting, which was the victory.
It wasn’t long ago that the Lakers were deliberating over whom to take at No. 2 where they considered each of the top five prospects to go in the draft in Markelle Fultz, Ball, Jayson Tatum, Josh Jackson and Fox.
Team president Magic Johnson and GM Rob Pelinka went with Ball believing the homegrown talent will be the transformative star and pass-first point guard the franchise so desperately needs.
Time will tell who got the better point guard. But the two rookies, who have known each other since playing together at an Adidas camp in high school, finally got to write the first chapter of what the two franchises hope will be a storybook rivalry.
It was just the first of hopefully many more meetings between the two competitors, who seem to like each other.
“He is the same kid that I met,” Fox said of Ball’s demeanor. “I mean, you just got more followers, you got more money and people really look upon everything that you do now. He is still the same chill, laid back, doesn’t-say-much guy that I met in high school.”
“He shoots the same way, he’s just missing right now,” Fox added. “In Lexington, I remember just about every play that I’ve played in. He had a damn step-back 3 from damn near half court in Lexington. He can shoot the ball. … The expectations are out of this world for him. It’s … I couldn’t imagine it. … We go out there to be the best we can be. We just let the results fall where they may.”