After a week off, the South Bay Lakers were back in action on Saturday night in El Segundo against the Rio Grande Valley Vipers.
They weren’t as depleted as last week; Alex Caruso and Thomas Bryant were back on the team. As for the RGV Vipers, they were led by two-way player R.J. Hunter (ex-Georgia State Panther), former Grizzly/Sixer Tony Wroten, and Chinanu Onuaku, who is on assignment from the Houston Rockets.
Bryant and Caruso made their presence felt early. But it was Robert Heyer that was scoring in bunches. He ended with 11 points in the first as the South Bay Lakers got off to one of their signature fast starts. It was 43-29 in favor of the SB Lakers after the first period.
The only stretch that the SB Lakers were in danger of was at the end of the first half. They were leading, 66-53, before the Vipers closed the second quarter with nine straight points. R.J. Hunter had 15 by the half and the deficit was down to 66-62.
But from there, the SB Lakers pretty much shut the door on the Vipers. A quick 10-2 spurt boosted the home team. Caruso and Bryant (to the delight of Los Angeles Laker Kyle Kuzma, who was in attendance) each scored 12 points in the third stanza. Kuzma was loving those throwdowns by the always-hyped Bryant. Hunter did all he could by scoring 11 points in the third but South Bay still led, 108-91, with twelve minutes remaining.
The lead would only grow in the fourth quarter and the South Bay Lakers would just cruise the rest of the way. The game ended with a 137-114 tally.
Four players ended with 20 or more points for the SB Lakers. Alex Caruso had an excellent performance with 27 points and 10 assists. Thomas Bryant nearly got a triple-double with 20-9-9. Robert Heyer had a career-best 22 points and Andre Ingram, the career leader in 3-pointers in the G-League, scored 20. R.J. Hunter led the Rio Grande Valley Vipers with 29 points. The South Bay Lakers stay in second place in the West as they go up to 27-17. RGV Vipers fall to 25-20.
I was able to talk to both Alex Caruso and Thomas Bryant after the game. Caruso said that the team was itching to play since they had a week off. He also joked that I should be attending games more when I let them know about their fast starts at home. But he did mention that playing for each other has really helped the team get far. He attributes the fast starts to being fast and intense right from the beginning and says that teams don’t necessarily expect that from them. Caruso complimented Bryant’s game; he mentioned that the team feeds off his energy.
As for Bryant, he didn’t think his near-triple-double game was his best game this season; he mentioned messing up on a few plays on both ends. He did mention that Coach Coby Karl told him to be more aggressive at halftime; Thomas Bryant scored 12 points in that all-important third quarter. Bryant has worked so hard and is always so energized; he says that he keeps that mentality whether he’s in South Bay or up with the Los Angeles Lakers (Caruso mentioned that, for him personally, it’s a little adjustment but he’s gotten used to both roles).
I mentioned Kyle Kuzma being at the game and Bryant was giddy about it, saying that it helped him get hyped. Caruso smiled and pointed out that Kuzma and Bryant got a little thing going and that it boosted the team. He also pointed out about the two guys raising the roof after a dunk and that Caruso joked that Bryant wouldn’t get back on defense.
It’s the @nolimittb31 takeover!
— South Bay Lakers (@SouthBayLakers) March 11, 2018
Anyway, big win for the South Bay Lakers after losing two straight. I really like that they all genuinely love to play with each other and support one another.
Work doesn’t stop for them, though. They’re on the road tonight against the Northern Arizona Suns on a tail end of a back-to-back. And this is after a week off. Such a weird schedule.
*We’d like to thank Noah Camarena, the media relations coordinator of the South Bay Lakers, for giving us this opportunity to cover the team.