Sacramento Kings point guard De'Aaron Fox beat Los Angeles Lakers point guard Lonzo Ball in last season's NCAA tournament and earned another head-to-head win Wednesday with a 113-102 victory at the Golden 1 Center.
Willie Cauley-Stein led the way with 26 points and six rebounds, helping to end 5-13 Sacramento's two-game losing streak and 8-11 Los Angeles' two-game winning streak.
The Lakers used a spurt to close within single digits entering the fourth quarter after facing a 13-point halftime deficit, but Sacramento started the final frame with a 7-0 run and was never tested down the stretch.
Ball vs. Fox Steals the Storylines
While Cauley-Stein and the Kings' frontcourt set the tone, the primary storyline entering Wednesday's contest was the showdown between Ball—the No. 2 pick in the 2017 draft—and Fox—the No. 5 pick.
Ball impressed with a double-double (11 points, 11 assists and seven rebounds), while Fox outscored him with 13 but also had more turnovers (five to four) and just four rebounds and three assists.
There was more to this individual rivalry than just top-five picks testing themselves against each other and comparing box scores. Fox's Kentucky Wildcats handled Ball's UCLA Bruins in last season's Sweet 16 largely because Fox eviscerated UCLA's defense with 39 points.
Ball had just 10 points on 4-of-10 shooting and struggled to handle Fox's athleticism on the possessions they were matched against each other.
UCLA won the regular-season matchup, but similar storylines developed with Fox tallying 20 points and nine assists and Ball posting 14 points and seven dimes. Fox's father, Aaron Fox, made sure everyone knew about it when speaking to Bleacher Report's Jonathan Abrams:
"My son already ate his ass up twice. [LaVar] can say what he wants to say. I just tell him to go back and watch the film. That's it. All that yap, yap, yapping, I don't even got to respond to that. We played them twice. Twice his son got outplayed. I always tell [De'Aaron], let your game speak for it. You ain't got to talk. You ain't got to fuss."
Fox then turned heads with a since-deleted tweet when Ball missed their Summer League matchup with an ankle injury:
Tania Ganguli @taniaganguli
De'Aaron Fox's since-deleted tweet, presumably in reference to no rematch with Ball. https://t.co/tnHVfOxAAw2017-7-10 20:45:22
Naturally, LaVar Ball couldn't let things rest while appearing on Fox Sports Radio:
"Duck De'Aaron Fox? Have you heard about De'Aaron Fox? Hell nah. You can't hear about him unless he puts my boy's name in his mouth. He been doing all this stuff and ain't nobody been talking about him. So he and his dad gotta link themselves to us to be relevant."
It didn't look as if Ball was ducking anyone Wednesday when he skied over Sacramento's defense in the second quarter and converted an alley-oop with a one-handed catch and finish, drawing gasps from the crowd:
L O N Z O B A L L 📺: ESPN https://t.co/QpQFj6qbDW2017-11-23 04:23:34
It was the most memorable highlight from the two rookies, as they didn't have many opportunities to break each other down in the flow of the contest.
They did answer concerns about their shooting, with Ball hitting three of his five three-pointers and Fox draining both of his.
That Ball impacted the game beyond his scoring was no surprise considering he notched a triple-double Sunday against the Denver Nuggets and had 13 rebounds Tuesday against the Chicago Bulls. Basketball Reference noted he is in rare company with his rebounding:
Basketball Reference @bball_ref
Best Rebounding Percentage by a Guard, age-20 season or under: 1. Magic Johnson - 11.6% 2. Lonzo Ball - 11.5% https://t.co/HpHUGLdczl https://t.co/6XLTGgkJSF2017-11-22 21:40:16
Fox didn't have much chance to counter down the stretch, sitting out the fourth until there were less than three minutes remaining.
Kings Win Battle of Frontcourts
Both the Kings and Lakers feature a combination of youngsters and veterans in their frontcourts, and Sacramento set the tone in the paint while eyes were focused on the rookie backcourt showdown.
The offense ran through veteran Zach Randolph at times, and he responded by using soft touch in front of the rim and serving as a facilitator from the high post. He tallied 22 points, seven assists and seven rebounds and cleared lanes for Cauley-Stein.
Cauley-Stein took full advantage of those openings, carrying the offense for stretches with his ability to extend beyond the paint, attack off the bounce and get out in transition.
Willie Cauley-Stein drives down the lane for the @SacramentoKings! He's tied his season-high (22 PTS) on ESPN. https://t.co/teVp5DU4pU2017-11-23 05:42:10
Los Angeles veterans Andrew Bogut (zero points and two rebounds) and Brook Lopez (four points and one rebound) were essentially invisible, especially since Lopez dealt with foul trouble throughout much of the contest.
That left Julius Randle and Kyle Kuzma to do the heavy lifting. While they were solid with 31 combined points and 10 combined rebounds, they couldn't keep up with the Randolph and Cauley-Stein duo.
That was enough for Sacramento to put the Lakers away.
The Kings will look to keep things rolling Saturday against the Los Angeles Clippers, while the Lakers will also face the Clippers in their next game Monday.