Another win and the Lakers will be champions once again.
It may be summer league, but the buzz around rookie Lonzo Ball has ramped up the intrigue for the Lakers, who beat Dallas, 108-98, on Sunday to advance to Monday’s championship game against Portland at the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas.
Ball finished with 16 points, 10 assists and 4 rebounds, but checked out with 6:26 left in the third quarter due to tightness in his right calf and did not return.
“It’s the first time my calf (was) that tight so it was just being cautious,” Ball said. “I wanted to get back out there but the training staff took care of me and I will be with them tonight and tomorrow and hopefully I’ll be out there tomorrow.”
In his 21 minutes on the floor, Ball was the center of attention in a matchup with the Mavericks’ Dennis Smith Jr., the No. 9 pick in last month’s draft. Ball made a 3 on the Lakers first possession and finished 5 of 7 from the field.
It was yet again his performance outshone his off-court branding. Ball has been the talk of summer league as much for his play as for his choice in sneakers – on Sunday it was a pair of Jordan brand shoes.
Kyle Kuzma, the No. 28 pick in the draft, led the Lakers with 24 points, 5 rebounds, a block and a steal, while Matt Thomas scored 20 and Vander Blue added 17.
Ivica Zubac, who started 11 games at center for the Lakers last season, finished with 12 points, 7 rebounds and 2 blocks.
Smith Jr. scored 21 points to lead the Mavericks.
The Lakers shot 60.7 percent from the field, and at one point in the first half had made a blistering 21-of-25 shots. They led by 26 and cruised into halftime with a 62-40 advantage. However, with Ball out, the Mavericks rallied to cut the score to 96-95 on a 3 by New Zealand native Corey Webster late in fourth quarter.
That capped a 19-2 run for the Mavericks, but the Lakers’ Thomas answered with a 3 and they closed the game on a 12-3 run.
After dropping their first two games of pool play, the Lakers have won five straight to make an unlikely push to the final day of summer league. They will face a Trail Blazers team that is also 5-2 and on Sunday overcame a 19-point deficit against Memphis to earn an 87-82 semifinal victory.
The Lakers’ prospects in that game understandably may hinge on Ball’s availability. In six appearances, he is averaging 16.3 points, 7.7 rebounds, 2.5 steals and one block per game, while also leading all players with 9.3 assists per game.
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