When LaMelo Ball shoots like that, the Charlotte Hornets can beat anybody

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·4 min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

LaMelo Ball can always pass. That’s there, game after game.

But when Ball also is shooting the ball like he did in Wednesday night’s season opener for the Charlotte Hornets, the NBA world is his oyster and the Hornets can beat anyone.

Ball scored 31 points in Charlotte’s breathtaking 123-122 win over Indiana on Wednesday night. He also had nine rebounds and seven assists, many of them during an extraordinary 24-0 run that the Hornets pulled off in the third quarter, turning a dour game into an electric night.

With Hornets owner Michael Jordan, rapper DaBaby, LaMelo’s father, LaVar Ball, and 15,521 total fans in attendance, Ball was at his best.

He made 7 of 9 3-point attempts in the game, doing a Steph Curry imitation for one evening. He’s not going to shoot like that that every night, but just the idea that he can make seven treys in a single game is going to make him harder to guard.

“I just stay in the gym, work on my game and go out there and feel confident in every shot I take,” Ball said afterward.

“He takes his game to another level when he’s making shots,” Hornets coach James Borrego said of Ball.

Ball was far from the only star Wednesday on a night when the Hornets came all the way back from a 23-point, third-quarter deficit. Gordon Hayward, playing in his first NBA game in more than six months, ended up taking over parts of the fourth quarter and scored 27 points in 35 minutes.

Charlotte Hornets guard LaMelo Ball, left, drives to the basket with the Indiana Pacers defense giving chase Wednesday.
Charlotte Hornets guard LaMelo Ball, left, drives to the basket with the Indiana Pacers defense giving chase Wednesday.

P.J. Washington made the two game-winning free throws with 4.6 seconds left and also forced Indiana star Domantas Sabonis (33 points, 15 rebounds) into a closely-guarded miss on the game’s final possession. Backup point guard Ish Smith scored 14 points off the bench in his first game for Charlotte.

But Ball was the headliner, slicing through the air for layups and lofting 3-pointers with no hesitation. There were a lot more No. 2 jerseys in the stands than there were last year, partly because the Spectrum Center is now back to full capacity but partly because Ball’s popularity continues to increase. He’s hyped, yes, but it’s hard to say he’s over-hyped when he plays like that.

Ball also said it was a “blessing” to have so many of his family in the stands, including his parents and his grandparents.

LaVar Ball celebrates his son and Charlotte Hornets guard LaMelo Ball being named player of the game following action against the Indiana Pacers at Spectrum Center in Charlotte, NC on Wednesday, October 20, 2021. The Hornets defeated the Pacers 123-122, with LaMelo Ball posting 31 points, 9 rebounds and 7 assists.
LaVar Ball celebrates his son and Charlotte Hornets guard LaMelo Ball being named player of the game following action against the Indiana Pacers at Spectrum Center in Charlotte, NC on Wednesday, October 20, 2021. The Hornets defeated the Pacers 123-122, with LaMelo Ball posting 31 points, 9 rebounds and 7 assists.

At 20, Ball is enjoying his fame. He came to his postgame press conference wearing dark sunglasses, a lot of gold and a long, tailor-made coat that looked yellowish green but undoubtedly has a fancier name for its color than that. When he demonstrated with a flourish that the coat had his own name stitched into the lining, he smiled and said: “Did that end the interview?”

Hardly. Everyone wants a piece of Ball these days.

I only wish my Observer colleague and friend, the late Rick Bonnell, had been there to see this entertaining contest. The Hornets honored Rick before the game the first real one they had played since his death — with a video tribute, a moment of silence and the announcement of an annual college scholarship that will be presented in his name.

But as long as Hayward stays healthy and in the lineup and Terry Rozier (who missed this game with an ankle injury) comes back, Ball is going to have a team with enough pure scorers that defenses won’t be able to concentrate entirely on him.

Charlotte Hornets guard LaMelo Ball drives to the basket for a two-handed dunk against Indiana Wednesday.
Charlotte Hornets guard LaMelo Ball drives to the basket for a two-handed dunk against Indiana Wednesday.

The Hornets’ comeback from 23 points down Wednesday was a lot of fun to watch, but not unprecedented. Charlotte did almost exactly the same thing seven years before, when they trailed by 24 points in the third quarter against Milwaukee in a different season opener and then won in overtime.

I was at that game, too, and remember thinking the Hornets might have something special that year. But they didn’t. That team was too dependent on Kemba Walker and finished 16 games below .500.

This one, though? Ball is truly special and only 20 years old for a Hornets team about to embark on a two-game road trip to Cleveland (Friday) and Brooklyn (Sunday) before returning to Charlotte Monday night to host Boston. Hayward and Rozier are clutch veterans. Even without Rozier, none of the Charlotte rookies played a second on Wednesday night, a luxury Borrego could afford because the Hornets are way deeper than they have been.

As I wrote a day before the season, I think this Hornets team is headed to the playoffs after a six-year absence. But it all goes as LaMelo goes.

And on Wednesday, man, did he ever go.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting