NEW YORK — If anyone other than a certain parent objects to Lonzo Ball’s minutes during the fourth quarter of Lakers games, they aren’t saying it.
“That’s what the team is for,” Lonzo Ball said after the Lakers pulled away from the Charlotte Hornets on Saturday to win 110-99 while Ball and starting center Brook Lopez watched from the bench in the final period.
The Lakers outscored Charlotte 34-24, and sixth man Jordan Clarkson capably handled point guard responsibilities while pouring in 14 of his team-high 22 points.
“When JC came in, he was cookin’ tonight,” Ball said following the win. “We rolled with him, and I’m glad we did.”
The exclusion of Ball from fourth-quarter activities is bound to draw attention, however. Coach Luke Walton, who routinely defends his point guard’s development, bristled at another question about leaving Ball on the bench, a lineup decision he has made on several other occasions this season.
“Lots of people don’t play in the fourth,” Walton said. “And … reporters only point out that Lonzo doesn’t play.”
Walton pointed to Lopez, who was kept out in the fourth in Charlotte after scoring 13 points through three quarters, as well as starting shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, who was on the floor late Saturday but on other nights has been on the bench in crunch time.
Those two players account for $40 million in salary. Walton is right, their occasional absences are not in line with preseason expectations. However, they do not have cheerleaders with a national platform clamoring for a larger fourth-quarter role, as Ball does in the form of his father LaVar.
“There’s lots of starters who aren’t playing in the fourth,” Walton said. “Depending on how the group (on the floor) goes. We’ve got a lot of players who are very similar in what they can do, as far as where they’re at in their careers, and if someone’s going we’re going to let them go.”
Walton has already had to defend his handling of Ball in light of criticism from LaVar Ball, who has said on multiple occasions that his son would find a rhythm and lead the Lakers to more wins if he played all 12 minutes of the fourth quarter.
A certain irony can be found in the chasm between how LaVar Ball wants Walton to coach his son and how he is actually doing it. Beyond LaVar, Lonzo Ball might have no greater advocate than his head coach.
On Friday, Walton said he believes Ball, who is shooting 32.1 percent from the…