PORTLAND, Ore. — Lakers guard Lonzo Ball struggled through the worst offensive game of his career as he failed to score a point for the first time.
Ball missed both of his shots, did not go to the free throw line and finished with four assists, three rebounds, two blocks and one steal in the Lakers’ 113-110 loss to the Trail Blazers on Thursday night.
In 44 combined games in college at UCLA and in the pros with the Lakers, Ball had never failed to score a point, according to ESPN Stats & Information.
Making matters worse, Blazers point guard Damian Lillard made the winning 3-pointer with seven-tenths of a second left on a step-back jumper over Brandon Ingram. Ball’s counterpart finished with 32 points, six rebounds and five assists.
“I thought he was a little too passive tonight,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said. “I think that’ll continue to be … the hardest thing for young players is the consistency when you just play so many games. He’s so unselfish. We want him to be more aggressive with attacking the defenses. I feel like tonight was one of those nights where he was more passive with it than looking to really attack them.”
Ball has been at his best when he has come out aggressively pushing the pace and looking for his shot. However against Portland, Ball didn’t seem like himself offensively. One of his two shots in the game was a poor 3-point attempt toward the end of the first half that was blocked. The 6-foot-6 point guard also didn’t grab a rebound until the third quarter.
Coming into the game, Ball averaged 7.3 rebounds, 7.0 assists and 10.4 points in his first seven games.
“Definitely could have been more aggressive,” Ball admitted after the loss. “I was coming off, [Portland’s] big man was sagging so Brook [Lopez] was open.”
Lopez had his best game as a Laker with 28 points, making 12-of-20 shots. But the Lakers play at their best offensively when Ball is pushing the pace and engaged offensively. Ball was engaged defensively, blocking Lillard on one drive. But he is shooting just 16-for-56 from the field and has a combined total of 41 points in his past six games since he had a career-high 29 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists while shooting 12-for-27 in a win over Phoenix in the second game of the season.
Even with Ball struggling, the Lakers overcame an 18-point first-quarter deficit and just missed a chance on sending the game to overtime when rookie Kyle Kuzma (22 points) missed a 3 at the buzzer.
Ball has had a pattern so far of following up poor offensive games with strong aggressive outings. He can go nowhere but up after this performance in Portland in which he became the only starting point guard to be held scoreless in 25 or more minutes this season, and the first 2017 first-round pick to play at least 15 minutes and fail to score, according to ESPN Stats & Info. Ball’s 28 scoreless minutes is the most played by a top-five pick in his rookie season since Dikembe Mutombo did so in 1992. Ball has to find a balance between being so unselfish and setting teammates up and being aggressive with his shot.
“I think that is just a me thing,” Ball said of having to remind himself to be more aggressive. “Taking shots when I am open, creating shots for myself.”
Ball faces his Lakers predecessor D’Angelo Russell on Friday. Russell, now with the Brooklyn Nets, will face his old team for the first time since being traded with Timofey Mozgov for Lopez and the Nets’ 27th overall pick in the draft.
The rookie said he learned a few things playing against Lillard on Thursday.
“He is a great player,” Ball said. “You saw the tough shot he made, he made tough shots all night. Very good without the ball, which I can add to my game because I really don’t play too much without the ball. Always good to go up against a great point guard like that.”