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LaMelo ball “closer” to return from injuries

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Charlotte Hornets guard LaMelo Ball before the start of an NBA basketball game against the Utah Jazz on Monday, January 23, 2023, in Salt Lake City.  (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

Charlotte Hornets guard LaMelo Ball before the start of an NBA basketball game against the Utah Jazz on Monday, January 23, 2023, in Salt Lake City. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

AP

Eyebrows raised in the hours leading up to the Charlotte Hornets’ third stop on their winding road trip, curious about naming the injury associated with the team’s star.

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When LaMelo’s ball was listed as questionable due to his ankle and wrist soreness, it represented a move up after he missed Saturday night’s win in Atlanta, indicating potential progression with his ailments.

Considering the shrinking scene last Wednesday in the Houston Owl unable to put any weight on his left foot, just knowing the Hornets’ active base might give him a chance against Utah Monday night sure lifted some spirits. Especially when combined with hate Shared with The Charlotte Observer Before the team leaves Georgia and hops on a four-plus-hour flight to head west.

But about an hour before tip-off against the Jazz, the Hornets couldn’t get the ball services, instead he was linked to the inactive list again. So he sat on the bench in street clothes during the Hornets’ 120-102 loss to Utah at Vivin Arena, powerless to do anything to help with a pointless effort.

“I think it’s closer,” said Hornets coach Steve Clifford. “He’s been able to do a good majority of his shooting (Monday) mornings. I think he’s feeling a lot better with his ankle and wrist. I don’t know when, but I don’t think he’s very far.”

If the Hornets were smart, they’d hide their ball uniform somewhere in a truckload of gear that accompanies them on long road trips. Do whatever you can to stop him from playing even if he’s thinking about getting dressed.

And no, it has nothing to do with the “T” word. This is a “tank” for those scoring home runs or wondering why tweets about the Hornets’ struggles so often receive responses to photos and videos featuring the well-known military vehicle.

The Hornets’ season has already been grilled, with the only real drama remaining over whether GM Mitch Kupchak will be active in transferring players ahead of the February 9 trade deadline and the team’s exact odds of winning the first pick in the NBA draft lottery in May. Playing the ball at anything less than 100% doesn’t make sense to everyone and ensuring he’s a spectator until he’s fully recovered should be the Hornets’ main priority.

The team must do everything it can to keep the ball and protect the franchise player from anything that could endanger his long-term health. The Hornets can’t gamble with the future and leave everything entirely in the 21-year-old’s hands as his competitive nature will surely take off.

“Yeah, that’s the tricky balance you have to play as an athlete because you want to be on the court and the team needs you,” said Gordon Hayward, who was no stranger to injuries themselves. “But you don’t want to injure anything again. He’s got a long career ahead of him and certainly his career is first and foremost. I know he’s doing everything he can to get himself right. But it’s definitely a tough balancing act.”

Ball’s popularity is off the charts, as evidenced by his jersey scoring 12th among the best sellers in the NBA this season. The number 1’s teal jerseys with the ball’s name emblazoned across the back feature the dots on every stop the Hornets make, with Salt Lake City being no exception.

Even visiting yards far from Charlotte’s friendly confines, Ball constantly hears high-pitched cries from children begging for the slightest bit of recognition. He’s like a rock star with a basketball, a special talent that the Hornets have to keep mining properly to strike gold.

The impact of the ball on the ground is undeniable.

Offensively, he’s their drive and 6.8 extra points per 100 possessions with the Hornets running the show is the team’s top scorer. They weren’t the same against jazz without him.

He is the only player in the league this season to average at least 23 points, eight assists and connect with four three-pointers per game. In fact, the only other person to post those numbers in a full season is Portland’s Damian Lillard, who accomplished it in 2019-20.

Don’t you think the Hornets missed their set from deep against Utah? They consumed only two of their 16 attempts behind the three-point line, with Terry Rozier bringing them both down. Since returning on December 14 from his second stint on the injury list, Paul has managed 78 shots from 3-point range, which is the best mark in the league.

In fact, this is the number that should matter most: zero. As in is the amount of pain Ball has in either his left ankle, sprained three times in four months or his right wrist which was surgically repaired before he was reinserted into the Hornets lineup.

Risking any lingering effects until then makes absolutely no sense because completely healthy possession of the ball is so important to the Hornets. It is indisputable.

“Absolutely,” said Clifford. “Now that Gordon is back, it would be great to bring him back, Cody (Martin) back so we can look more at what kind of lineup we were hoping to have when we started training camp. So again I think Melo is close, but I think Cody is Close to getting there, too.”

This story was originally published Jan 24, 2023 4:30 AM.

Roderick Boone joined The Observer in September 2021 to cover the Charlotte Hornets and the NBA. In more than two decades of writing about the world of sports, he has chronicled everything from high school rodeos to Major League Baseball no-hitters to the Super Bowl to the Finals. The Long Island native has deep roots in North Carolina and enjoys watching The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air endlessly.
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