LaMelo Ball Powers a Surging Charlotte Hornets

BOSTON — The carnival ride known as LaMelo Ball was slowing to a merciful crawl with 7.3 seconds left on Wednesday when a teammate informed him that he was painfully close to his fourth career triple-double.

Ball is the hyperactive force who powers the Charlotte Hornets, and as soon as he learned that he needed one more rebound — just one more! — he cranked up the engine, chased down the final errant shot that the Celtics had tossed up and left for the visiting locker room with his stat sheet officially stuffed.

Was that last rebound gratuitous? Sure. Was it really necessary for Ball, by his own admission, to box out his own teammates in pursuit of it? Of course not. Was it a fitting postscript to another entertaining evening courtesy of Ball and the rest of the Hornets, the Eastern Conference’s resident fun bunch? Absolutely.

“I enjoy the process with these guys,” James Borrego, the Hornets’ coach, said after his team’s 111-102 victory over the Celtics. “They drive me crazy, and they’re going to put a lot of grays on me. But this is why we do it — just to see that growth.”

Many teams in the East have muddled through the first half of the season with mediocre records, a development diplomatically known as parity. The Hornets, though, who are eyeing their first playoff appearance since 2016, are finding some momentum. They share they ball. They run the court. They are learning to defend. They play with style.

“Everybody’s playing free,” Ball said.

And, of course, there was his colorful brand of basketball from the start. He blew past the Celtics’ Dennis Schroder for a layup. He curled a bounce pass through a maze of arms to Mason Plumlee for an uncontested dunk. He elevated for some sort of highly inventive (and arguably ill-advised) 360-degree floater and drew contact, sinking both free throws.

The game was only minutes old, and the ball seemed liquid coming off his hands. It was Ball at his mesmerizing best.

Even so, acclimating to the league’s nightly grind is a process for even the most precocious players, and Ball, 20, is no exception. Before the start of training camp, Borrego identified a few points of emphasis for Ball. Borrego wanted his point guard to improve as a leader, to approach his job as a professional every day. He wanted him to improve as a game manager, to understand time and situation. He also wanted him to improve as a defender, to anticipate rather than react.

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