For the Charlotte Hornets from the bench, LaMelo Ball has been carrying energy all season.
Now, as a starter, he will get a chance to do it.
After a first half ankle injury to starter Terry Rozier, the rookie point guard made the most of his expanded playing time Friday night, scoring a career-high 27 points to go along with nine assists and four steals as the Charlotte Hornets handed the Milwaukee Bucks their second loss in two nights, 126-114.
When Ball was on the court, the Hornets outscored the Bucks by 37, and he was the difference maker in the final 6:09 of the game, in which Charlotte outscored Milwaukee 16-4.
James Borrego, the Hornets coach, said Ball’s energy was “infectious.”
“That is what makes his special, he just loves the game,” Borrego said. “He has a great joy for his teammates and playing the game. … The guys love playing with him and they play with more joy when he’s in there. I want to coach with more joy because of him.”
The influence he has on his teammates is sensed by Ball.
Teammate Miles Bridges said: “He just makes everyone around him better.”
It was the second straight night a member of the Ball family had victimized the Bucks. On Friday night, LaMelo’s older brother, Lonzo, scored 27 points on seven 3-pointers to lead the Pelicans to a 131-126 win.
Before making a decision on whether Ball will start in Miami on Monday night, Borrego said he would wait to see how serious Rozier’s ankle injury is.
Gordon Hayward added 27 points, Malik Monk had 18 and Cody Zeller chipped in for the Hornets, who defeated the Pacers and Bucks on back-to-back nights with a career-best 15 rebounds.
Giannis Antetokounmpo almost had a triple-double, finishing for the Bucks with 34 points, 18 rebounds and nine assists. With about seven minutes to go, the two-time MVP seemed to be banging knees with Miles Bridges but stayed in the game.
“I think he kind of just knocked knees, so knee-to-knee,” said Bucks coach Mike Budenholzer. “He was obviously able to play. We’ll see how he feels in the morning, see how sore he is and hope for the best”
Jrue Holiday had 21 points, and for the Bucks, Khris Middleton had 18. They dropped to 11-8.
At both ends of the court, the ball was clutched down the stretch.
When Hayward intercepted Antetokounmpo and delivered a look ahead pass to Ball, the Hornets led by two with less than three minutes to play, who twisted his body to avoid blocking his attempt, scoring and drawing the foul. Ball came up with a steal on Milwaukee’s next possession and fed Devonte Graham for a 3-pointer and soon the Hornets led by double digits.
Budenholzer said, “Their activity, their hands, they created a few turnovers and they were obviously able to turn some of those turnovers into some baskets and they just out-executed us down the stretch the last two or three minutes.”