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The NBA is hard.

Once the regular season ends, it gets even harder.

Charlotte Hornets rookie sensation, LaMelo Ball, found that out the hard way in the inaugural game of the NBA Play-In Tournament. The Hornets faced the Indiana Pacers, a team they beat two of the three times they played this year.

The Pacers beat down Ball and his crew by a score of 144-117.

The Indiana Pacers blew out the Charlotte Hornets in the NBA Play-In Tournament

LaMelo Ball | Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The first-ever NBA play-in games started promisingly enough. The pace was fast, and the action was up and down. The Pacers started hot, making a few more shots than the Hornets, but it looked like the makings of a fun, exciting game. 

It was not. 

By the time the horn blew for the end of the first quarter, the Pacers were up 40-24, and they never looked back. The Pacers ended the night with eight players finishing with double-digit points. 

The Pacers did this without their second-leading scorer, Caris LeVert, who was out with an injury. They also got just 16 from their leading scorer Malcolm Brogdon and 14 from their third-leading scorer, Domantas Sabonis. Oshae Brissett and Doug McDermott led the way with 23 and 21, respectively.    

What went wrong for the LaMelo Ball and the Hornets? 

The Hornets played without their second-leading scorer, Gordon Hayward, and put out a team with minimal postseason experience. Only Terry Rozier and Cody Zeller have meaningful playoff games on their resume.

The team’s star rookie could have made up for these deficiencies, but instead, Ball had a terrible game. The youngest Ball brother scored 14 points on an abysmal 4-14 shooting night. He only tallied a single rebound and had an equal number of assists and turnovers (4). Statistically, he was the worst player on the court at -35.

It is no secret that, once the regular season finishes, teams buckle down on defense and take away a team’s first option. The Hornets never adjusted and moved away from their usually effective pick-and-roll game. A second, or even third, option didn’t step up for Charlotte and they got smacked around for it.

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Despite the shellacking Ball and the Hornets took from the Pacers, the season was still successful for the organization. The biggest accomplishment of the season is that Michael Jordan and company found a franchise-anchoring star.

Ball was the No. 3 pick in the 2020 NBA draft but may be the best player selected. Ball is still the sportsbook favorite to win Rookie of the Year. The young point guard is currently -1900 to take home the award, according to FanDuel. His closest competition is Minnesota’s Anthony Edwards at +1200.

Rookie of the Year is a regular-season award, so voters won’t take the Pacers drubbing into account.

While Ball and the Hornets will go home disappointed this season, they (and their fans) should be happy about the long-term prospects and even this loss.

No team has ever won the NBA Finals without first suffering some type (or many types) of embarrassing/heartbreaking/frustrating postseason losses. It happened to Jordan with the Pistons, LeBron James’s Heat with the Mavericks, and Stephen Curry with the Spurs.

It’s too early to say if this embarrassing loss is the first step in LaMelo Ball’s journey to an NBA title, but if it is, this loss puts him in good company.

All stats courtesy of Basketball Reference