EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — Lonzo Ball will return to the court and play alongside LeBron James for the first time this preseason on Wednesday night against Golden State.
Ball, who has been eased back into action after undergoing surgery for a torn left meniscus, said he will come off the bench.
Ball could play between 10 to 30 minutes when the Lakers and Warriors meet in Las Vegas, according to coach Luke Walton. If all goes well, Ball expects to play again in the Lakers’ preseason finale, also against Golden State, in San Jose on Friday.
Fellow second-year guard Josh Hart, who tweaked a hamstring in practice on Monday, is listed as questionable to play Wednesday.
“Feels like a long time,” Ball said before the Lakers left for Las Vegas on Tuesday. “So I am very happy to get back on the floor finally, and it all starts with tomorrow.
“It’s frustrating when you play basketball your whole life and then it gets taken away from you for a little bit. But I am happy to be back.”
Ball has not played in a basketball game since March 28 against Dallas. He missed the final eight games of his rookie season with a left knee injury and then rested the knee for much of the beginning of the offseason. Ball also underwent platelet-rich plasma injections to strengthen his left knee and try to avoid surgery, but the point guard eventually had an arthroscopic procedure in mid-July.
Ball participated in contact practices early in training camp but has been building his conditioning as the team played it safe with his recovery. Walton and James raved about how Ball looked in the contact practices early in camp, despite the long layoff.
“You see him on the floor and it doesn’t seem like he had anything done with his knee in the offseason,” James said, reiterating something he said earlier in camp when Ball first participated in contact practices.
Ball said he has added about 15 to 20 pounds to his wiry 6-foot-6 frame after spending much of the summer in the weight room and film room while rehabbing his knee.
“You can feel a big difference,” Ball said of his added strength. “Last year I was 190, now I am at 205, 210. It helps a lot. Just get to the basket easier, you can switch better, guarding bigs. Me, I am [going to be a] 1-through-4 switch, so it helps me a lot.”
“Just being more consistent, hitting open shots and being able to guard whoever they want me to guard,” Ball added of what will be different in his game this season.
Ball will take to the floor this preseason under much different circumstances than last preseason, when the 2017 No. 2 overall pick was coming off a sensational Las Vegas Summer League debut. Ball went into last preseason as the most hyped rookie in the NBA thanks in part to his draft position, playing for his hometown Lakers and the attention generated by his outspoken father, LaVar.
If anyone understands the scrutiny and spotlight that Ball has faced early in his career, it’s James, who also was drafted by his hometown team, Cleveland, and had to play with enormous expectations as the No. 1 overall pick in 2003. James posted an Instagram picture of Ball guarding James in a practice on Monday with the caption, “It’s about that time Young King. Let’s Get It, you was born for this moment!”
“When you are drafted that high and you are a local kid, people have seen you grow your whole life, so they expect you to be great every night,” James said. “So in that sense, I understand [what Ball has experienced coming into the league].”
Ball is eager to play alongside James, who was his basketball idol.
“I am looking forward to having a lot of fun and winning a lot of games,” Ball said. “He’s the best player in the world; [I’ll] do what I can to help him out.
“We will be playing fast, I will be getting the ball to him a lot. He can do the same, get out and push it, so that will be a very interesting dynamic.”