LaMelo Ball breaks ankle, latest setback in rough season

Charlotte Hornets guard LaMelo Ball holds his ankle after being shaken up on a play during the second half of an NBA basketball game against the Detroit Pistons in Charlotte, N.C., Monday, Feb. 27, 2023. (AP Photo/Jacob Kupferman)
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AP Sports Writer

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — LaMelo Ball’s frustrating, injury-plagued season could be over after the point guard broke his right ankle in Charlotte’s 117-106 win over the Detroit Pistons on Monday night.

Ball has already missed 27 games this season after he sprained his left ankle on three separate occasions, beginning in the preseason. He and the Hornets (20-43) were playing their best basketball of the season before the point guard fell to the floor on a non-contact play in the third quarter.

X-rays revealed the fracture to Ball’s ankle.

“It sucks,” Hornets swingman Gordon Hayward said, shaking his head. “Injuries are the worst part of the game.”

Ball had entered the game with five straight double-doubles and appeared on his way to another with 18 points, six rebounds and five assists before leaving with 9:26 left in the period.

He was also shooting the ball extremely well from deep, having made 47.3% (27 of 57) of his 3-point shots over the last five games. He was 6 of 7 from beyond the arc against the Pistons.

Charlotte’s five-game win streak was the team’s longest of the season.

“We were starting to figure it out as a team,” Hayward said. “He and I were starting to build (chemistry). I think me personally, I was starting to build a good relationship with him on the court and we were finding easy buckets for each other. Some of that is what we’ve gone through the whole year, not being able to build that out on the court with different guys being injured. Him at the beginning of the season, then me right after that, and now him again. It’s been back and forth with different people through the year, which is tough.”

Ball had just dribbled behind his back and appeared to be setting up to work off a screen from center Mark Williams beyond the 3-point arc when he fell to the ground. He grabbed the loose ball and passed to Williams, who found a teammate for a score.

Ball was taken to the locker room.

Hayward said players figured he had “tweaked something,” not knowing the extent of the injury until after the game.

Hornets coach Steve Clifford didn’t say how long Ball would be out. But given the severity of the injury and the fact the Hornets only have 19 games remaining and are not in contention for the playoffs, it seems unlikely the team would rush him back.

“The only thing you can do is watch the film, learn from it and then focus on what we have to do tomorrow in practice to get ready for (the next game). Unfortunately, we’re experienced at playing without all of them, so it’s not like it’s going to be brand new,” Clifford said. “It’s tough, too, because he was starting to play so well, and the team obviously was playing better and better. They’re not going to wait for us.”

Hayward said he texted Ball after the game, but hadn’t spoken with him.

“I think that is the most important thing when you are injured — stay positive and have a good support system around you including your teammates, family and friends,” said Hayward, who broke an ankle on an awkward landing in 2017 while playing for Boston. “He’s young and he will bounce back but it is always tough in the moment.”