Hornets’ Ball makes season debut vs. Heat

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Charlotte Hornets guard LaMelo Ball made his regular-season debut vs. the host Miami Heat on Saturday night in a 132-115 loss.

Ball had missed the Hornets’ first 13 games this season with a left ankle sprain he suffered in a preseason game on Oct. 10. He had 15 points, six rebounds and six assists in 28 minutes.

“I feel straight. We’re going to be straight,” Ball said. “More games, it’ll get easier. I think I’m in a good spot.”

Ball won Rookie of the Year in his debut season and was named an All-Star in his sophomore campaign, when he averaged 20.1 points, 7.6 assists and 6.7 rebounds.

“He did a bunch of good things and he’ll play better and better as we go here,” Hornets coach Steve Clifford said.

The Hornets have struggled in his absence, having dropped seven games in a row heading into Saturday’s tilt with the Heat. The loss drops them to 3-11 on the season.

Ball’s return comes after the Hornets lost swingman Caleb Martin for at least four weeks because of arthroscopic knee surgery. Gordon Hayward has also been out with a shoulder injury.

Ball also returned as the Hornets lost another point guard. Dennis Smith Jr., who started in Ball’s spot for 11 of Charlotte’s first 13 games, was sidelined on Saturday with a sprained left ankle. Smith got hurt in the overtime session against Miami on Thursday night; Clifford said he wasn’t expected to miss significant time.

Ball said if Smith had been able to play Saturday, he would have likely sat one more game. Clifford said simply having Ball at shootaround Saturday morning provided a lift.

“When a player of his caliber comes back, it makes the game easier for everybody,” Clifford said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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