Lonzo Ball (left) and LaMelo Ball will play against each other Friday in New Orleans

Lonzo, LaMelo Ball prepare to face each other for first time in NBA

Pelicans host Hornets at 6:30 p.m. Friday on national TV
by Jim Eichenhofer

According to probability statistics, the odds of an American high school basketball player being drafted by an NBA team are roughly 0.03 percent, or 3 in 10,000. So what does that make the odds that two players from the same family will be selected? How about two players from the same family both being top-three overall draft picks?

Point guards Lonzo Ball, 23, and younger brother LaMelo, 19, have already defied astronomical odds in their basketball careers by what they’ve accomplished. On Friday in New Orleans, the No. 2 pick of the 2017 draft and the No. 3 pick of the 2020 draft will add another chapter to their improbable story, facing each other for the first time in the NBA. Adding to the significance of Friday’s matchup, the Pelicans-Hornets game will be broadcast nationally by ESPN (6:30 p.m. Central).

“I think it just shows that all the hard work paid off,” Lonzo said of the feat of two brothers reaching the NBA. “We’re really close and grew up together doing the same things, even though he’s a lot younger than I am. It’s a good thing to see that all the hard work paid off, that my dad put in with us, my family. All the times we were playing on the court, and we both ended up where we wanted to go.”

Lonzo’s head coach, Stan Van Gundy, has experience in competing with a younger brother in the NBA, just in a different vein – Stan and Jeff Van Gundy coached against each other when Jeff led the Houston Rockets. Stan said Thursday that he can relate to the unusual feeling of knowing that in order for you to win a game, a family member must lose it.

“I know how close my brother and I are,” Stan said. “Competing against my brother is not comfortable because you have 363 days a year where you’re rooting for your brother and hoping for his happiness, but then two nights a year where you’re trying to kick each other’s (butts). So it’s a little different feel.”

Lonzo mostly downplayed the significance of his first game vs. LaMelo, pointing more toward the need for New Orleans to break a mini-losing streak at home. The Pelicans (4-4) have a seven-game road trip on tap after hosting Charlotte (3-5) in the Smoothie King Center.

“I think it’s going to be a lot of fun,” Lonzo said of facing LaMelo. “It’s our first time matching up in a real game. But it’s a good opportunity for us (the Pelicans) to get back on track. We lost the last two, so we want to turn it around.”

Sounding a lot like his older brother, LaMelo expressed a similar sentiment, indicating that he’s not going to be emotional over the game or add significance to it.

“If anyone’s feeling something, it’s probably going to be my family,” the Charlotte rookie said. “They’re probably the ones getting the joy out of it. For (the brothers), it’s about going out there and trying to get a win for our team.”

Regardless of Friday’s outcome, Van Gundy said it will be a unique experience for the Ball siblings, one they should relish.

“It is surreal to look over (at the opposing team) in an NBA game and say, ‘God, that’s my brother. We grew up together.’ ” Van Gundy said. “It’s a phenomenal accomplishment. They should be proud of themselves and proud of each other.”

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