MIAMI (AP) — LaMelo Ball is finally back with the Charlotte Hornets.
The Hornets’ point guard — an All-Star a year ago — made his season debut Saturday night at Miami and was in the starting lineup. He was inactive for each of Charlotte’s first 13 games because of a sprained left ankle, an injury that occurred in the preseason.
Ball finished with 15 points, six assists and six rebounds in 28 minutes, making his season debut after missing the first 13 games with a sprained ankle. He shot 6 of 17, 1 for 9 from 3-point range, in Charlotte's 132-115 loss to the Heat — but insisted rust wasn't an issue.
“I feel straight. We're going to be straight," Ball said. “More games, it'll get easier. I think I'm in a good spot."
Ball averaged 20.1 points and 7.6 assists last season for Charlotte, becoming an All-Star in just his second NBA season. A season earlier, he averaged 15.7 points and 6.1 assists on his way to winning rookie of the year.
“He did a bunch of good things and he'll play better and better as we go here," Hornets coach Steve Clifford said.
The Hornets are on a league-worst eight-game losing streak and have been gutted by injuries. Ball had yet to play this season, and Saturday’s game was the sixth consecutive contest that forward Gordon Hayward was missing with a left shoulder contusion.
Still, Charlotte believes it can turn things around.
“We're getting people back now," Ball said. “We're finally getting on the road."
Forward Cody Martin played 56 seconds in the season-opener against San Antonio, left that game with a quadriceps injury, hasn’t played since and likely won’t play for at least another month following arthroscopic surgery on his left knee Friday.
And Ball returned as the Hornets lost another point guard. Dennis Smith Jr., who started in Ball's spot for 11 of Charlotte's first 13 games, was sidelined on Saturday with a sprained left ankle. Smith got hurt in the overtime session against Miami on Thursday night; Clifford said he wasn't expected to miss significant time.
Ball said if Smith was able to play Saturday, he would have likely sat one more game. Clifford said simply having Ball at shootaround Saturday morning provided a lift.
“When a player of his caliber comes back, it makes the game easier for everybody," Clifford said.