Friday night the Lakers played the best team in the league for the third game in the row. There are a lot of positives to take from the game. Unfortunately, the final score (106-1113) was not one of them. Lonzo Ball found his shot early. Kyle Kuzma found his shot late. By the end of the 4th we had all found ourselves watching an exciting young team.
Kyle Kuzma ended the game with 27 points and 14 rebounds. Kuzmas dynamic play solidified him as the world’s greatest Kyle. Honestly google it, it is not close. Playing 43 minutes, Kuzma became the first Lakers rookie since Jerry West to string together three consecutive 25 point games.
Lonzo Ball hit five of his six attempts from three to finish with 24 points. His shot had an arc we haven’t seen since he played at UCLA. He punished sagging defenders while also grabbing five rebounds and five assists.
Julius Randle was allowed to play in multiple quarters tonight and rewarded the Lakers with a team high plus/minus (8) to go with his 21 points in 24 minutes. Randle made two of three from beyond the arc and grabbed 10 rebounds to help turn the game around. There isn’t room to dive into Randle’s playing time now but you can listen here to Darius and Pete dive into December minutes.
Essentially, for a young team playing the league’s best we got everything we could’ve wanted except for a win. Kevin Durant got his (33/7/7) because there is no man that needs air to live that can stop him. A more interesting story would be the continued development of Jordan Bell. Drafted with a purchased 38th pick in the draft, Bell is a versatile center (20/10) who projects as a starter.
That all said, the story you should be talking about today is the return of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. Pope had a rough night in 34 minutes of play. He finished one for ten from three with some particularly bad shots late in the game. Games are rarely cut and dry, but if you want to make the argument he shot the Lakers out of the game you won’t hear much push-back from me.
Coach Walton spoke about Pope’s getting good looks. KCP would normally make those shots if we were not out on a work release from a detention center mid-season. The problem is not any individual shot from Kantavious, but the body of his work. He plays with the confidence of a player with the green light to shoot a three at any moment. He considers himself the best offensive option. That translates into a lot of bad shots from the perimeter.
Pope is a solid NBA guard. He plays passing lanes well. He generally shoots pretty well and is technically one of the three or four best players on the team. It is a question of roles. He has cast himself as the savior. He needs to recast himself as the hardworking sidekick.
We forget, watching this young core that KCP is in a contract year too. He took a one year deal, as big as it is, in the hopes of earning a multiyear spot. What we saw in Friday’s game was a player ever cognizant of his contract.
Our small lineup battled. Ball, Kuzma, and Randle nearly pulled it out in the end. Ultimately it ended in a loss, but it was definitely another great step forward. Last year we would have lost that game by 25 points. This year we came back from 23 down against one of the best teams of the last decade.
Onward to the next one – Saturday night against the erratic Portland Trailblazers.