(Harry How/Getty Images)
LeBron-Lonzo Combination Key in Victory Over Blazers
Lonzo Ball was instrumental in LeBron James’ monster performance against Portland on Wednesday, and it had nothing to do with the young point guard’s gifted passing.
Ball did not have an assist to James during the latter’s 44-point outburst, but the duo unleashed a lethal two-man game that had the Trail Blazers reeling, especially in the third quarter.
After halftime, the Lakers started having Lonzo set on-ball screens for LeBron. This is something they have done often with Rajon Rondo, and Ball has been put in the same role over the past couple of games.
“Size-wise we feel like we can gain an advantage,” coach Luke Walton said last week. “Most point guards aren’t willing to switch onto LeBron, so there’s confusion caused by two people trying to figure out how to keep him in front of them.”
Portland couldn’t figure out how to counter this action, as Al-Farouq Aminu and Damian Lillard frequently cluttered each other’s paths, allowing LeBron to feast in the chaos.
LeBron was a one-man battalion in that quarter, adding 16 points and 5 assists to his total.— Joey Ramirez (@JoeyARamirez) November 15, 2018
Did much of his damage out of a two-man game with Lonzo.
Bringing the point guard into the pick-and-roll sews confusion into the defense, and Zo sets solid screens. pic.twitter.com/7cDTWkr9Bl
James scored 16 points with five assists in that third quarter alone. He either found his own offense off Ball’s screen, or forced rim protector Jusuf Nurkic to rotate over, leaving the paint wide open for dunks from JaVale McGee and Tyson Chandler.
“What are you going to do — you gonna put a point guard on LeBron? Probably not,” Ball said at Thursday’s practice. “If you blitz him, then I got four-on-three. It’s just good for our offense.”
LeBron also used Lonzo as an off-ball screener, to the benefit of Kyle Kuzma.
Early in the game, they ran a play where Ball snuck in and caught Kuzma’s defender with a back screen, opening up a lane to the paint.
And during James’ red-hot third quarter, he posted up while Ball freed Kuzma once again.
This time he started by setting a pick facing the baseline, so Kuzma could run along the 3-point arc and attempt a jumper or drive.
But at the last instant, Ball changed the direction of his screen, giving Kuzma a step on his defender to cut to the rim — and James delivered a perfect bounce pass into a tiny window.
On a night when James scored the most points by a Laker since Kobe Bryant’s 60-point finale and passed Wilt Chamberlain as the fifth-leading scorer in NBA history, he still found time to pack the rest of the box score with his all-around game.
He was a sizzling, efficient scorer — hitting 13-of-19 from the field, 5-of-6 on 3-pointers and 13-of-15 at the foul line — while also finishing on the doorstep of a triple-double with 10 rebounds, nine assists and three blocks.
And Ball was on the receiving end of James’ overall production. Lonzo hit thee triples in the win over Portland, and each was assisted by LeBron.
None was more impressive than James’s skip pass from one sideline to the other, as he recognized Ball’s defender sank too far into the paint and set the sophomore up for one of his patented step-back 3s.
Lonzo — who has idolized LeBron’s unselfish game since he was a kid— played a key role in a historic night for his favorite player.
“I grew up watching him do that, so it was pretty cool to be on the floor with him, just being out there,” Ball said. “I didn’t know he had the numbers he had tonight, but obviously he had a great game and the stats showed in the end.”