NEW YORK -- Hornets star guard LaMelo Ball is expected to miss multiple weeks because of a right ankle sprain, a development Steve Clifford called "frustrating" coming on the heels of Sunday's game, when Charlotte had its projected starting lineup available for the first time in the coach's tenure.
"Obviously it's frustrating," Clifford said ahead of Tuesday night's game against the Knicks at Madison Square Garden, the final in-season tournament group stage game for both teams. "The other night was the first time we went into a game for two years where that was the projected starting lineup -- basically, that it was the team that I thought I would coach. And we got about a quarter and three minutes, when he got hurt.
[But] this is part of the NBA. Like I told [the team], you got to hope that it's going to turn here and we'll get him back, we'll get Nick Richards back, Cody Martin back, Frank [Ntilikina] back, and then we'll have a stretch where we have our whole team. Because when we do, and we get a little bit more organized, I think we can be very good."
Ball suffered the injury early in the second quarter of Charlotte's loss to the Orlando Magic on Sunday, when he landed hard on the ankle on a drive into the paint. He stayed down for some time and eventually had to be helped off the court.
A more definitive timeline for Ball's return is expected to be announced in the coming days.
With Ball sidelined, a bigger role will be given to guard Terry Rozier, who himself returned to the court for the first time in three weeks Sunday after sitting out because of a groin injury. Rozier had 22 points and 9 assists in 37 minutes against the Magic, and Clifford said Rozier's presence will play a part in making up for Ball's loss.
Ball, 22, had surgery on the same ankle last season, part of what limited him to 33 games in 2022-23. Across 15 games this season, Ball is averaging a career-high 24.7 points to go along with 5.5 rebounds, 8.2 assists and 1.4 steals.