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LeBron James impressed with LaMelo Ball after first game against rookie

LeBron James and LaMelo Ball shared an NBA court for the first time Thursday night at Staples Center, and the Los Angeles Lakers superstar walked away impressed with the talented Charlotte Hornets rookie.

Following the Lakers’ 116-105 win over the Hornets, James praised Ball by pointing out how far along the rookie is for his age.

“He’s damn good to be his age,” James said of Ball after their matchup, per Ramona Shelburne of ESPN. “His speed, his quickness, his ability to make shots and baskets in the paint … and he’s going to only get better. Every game is a learning experience for him. He’s going to get better as the season goes on and his career goes on.

“Him and [Zion Williamson] are two very unique players in our league and they showcase that every night.”

Ball finished the game with 26 points, five rebounds and seven assists. James, meanwhile, scored 37 points and added eight rebounds and six assists in the Lakers’ fourth consecutive win.

An amusing aside to Ball’s first on-court encounter with King James was how the Hornets rookie provided a somewhat tepid comment earlier in the week about how he felt about the impending showdown.

“I mean, nah,” Ball told reporters on a videoconference Tuesday, per ESPN. “I grew up a little different. Not really on basketball like that. So, not really.”

Ball’s tone changed when discussing the opportunity after the game, though, but not by much.

“It felt good,” Ball said. “But not too good, because we didn’t get the win.”

Ball is without question the front-runner in the NBA Rookie of the Year race. The 19-year-old guard is averaging 16 points on 45.3% shooting (37.7% from three), 6.2 assists and 5.9 rebounds across 40 games.

The rookie is unquestionably enjoying a meteoric rise in his first NBA season, an outstanding campaign that has left Hornets owner Michael Jordan mightily pleased with the organization’s decision to take the point guard with the No. 3 pick in the 2020 NBA Draft.

That said, another rookie — who incidentally also received praise from James this season — arguably is narrowing the gap with Ball in the Rookie of the Year Award chase.