From Idol to Rival: Ball Set for 1st Bout with Irving

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BOSTON –Los Angeles Lakers rookie Lonzo Ball has idolized Boston Celtics point guard Kyrie Irving throughout his career. Admiration will turn to competition Wednesday night, when the 20-year-old point guard goes toe-to-toe with his four-time All-Star counterpart for the first time.

Having been a fan of Irving for so long, Ball has been looking forward to this matchup for quite some time.

“It’s pretty cool when you get to watch (your idols) as a fan, and then you come out here and we’re playing against each other,” Ball said Wednesday afternoon following L.A.’s shootaround at TD Garden. “It’s a dream come true.”

Ball will try not to get too caught up in the dream when he hits the parquet floor for the first time. He’s ready to put his idolization of Irving aside, and embrace the challenge of competing against him.

“In the past I was a fan (of his), but now we’re going against each other,” said Ball. “So now I gotta go out there and do what I was brought here to do.”

Through the first 10 games of the 2017-18 season, the No. 2 overall pick’s play has been the subject of much criticism. He’s been a solid distributer and rebounder, averaging 6.9 assists and 6.4 boards per game, but he’s only tallying 8.8 points per game while shooting 29.9 percent from the floor, 23.4 percent from 3-point range and 53.8 percent from the free-throw line.

If Ball were to maintain those clips, he would become the first player in NBA history to shoot less than 30 percent from the field, less than 25 percent from 3-point range and less than 55 percent from the free-throw line, per basketball-reference.com.

Meanwhile, his counterpart has been tearing up the league over the last two and a half weeks.

Irving has led the Celtics to nine consecutive wins, while pacing the team in scoring (22.3 PPG) and passing (5.7 APG). He’s also been key defensive cog for Boston, racking up second most steals per game (2.2) in the league.

Matching up with Irving will be a mighty challenge, but Lakers’ coach Luke Walton believes Ball will be prepared since he’s faced some tough competition from opposing point guards early on in his rookie season.

“Really, in that position, there’s no one you’re getting a night off from, and they’re each uniquely different,” said Walton. “Kyrie is having a hell of a year so far. And in [Boston’s] offense he’s a monster to deal with, with all that spacing, and cutting, and shooting around him. He’ll have his hands full, but it’s Zo’s job to push it right back at him and try to attack him and try to have the same thing said about him at the end of the night.”

That being said, Ball has yet to face a point guard with handling abilities quite like Irving. He knows he’ll have his work cut out for him in this matchup.

“It’s going to be difficult,” Ball admitted. “He’s one of the best guards in the NBA. I’m just going to come out here and play as hard as I can, and see what happens.”

Tune into ESPN at 8 p.m. to catch the action, as Irving and Ball are both introduced to the Celtics-Lakers rivalry for the first time.