December 23, 2017, 2:47 am
The Lakers just finished the most difficult stretch that any team will play all year, playing the reigning champion Warriors twice, the Cleveland Cavaliers and the Houston Rockets. Los Angeles won only once but every single game was closely contested — by hanging with the elite teams in the league, the Lakers learned a lot about themselves.
Lesson number one is that Kyle Kuzma is really, really good. Kuzma put in another spectacular effort on Friday with 27 points, 14 rebounds, one assist, one steal and two blocks on 9-of-15 shooting from the floor, 3-of-6 from 3-point range and 6-of-8 from the free throw line. In the process he became the first Laker rookie since Jerry West (1961) to score 25 points or more in three consecutive games. During this four-game stretch he averaged 27.5 points, 8.5 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 0.5 steals and 0.75 blocks on 57.4 percent from the floor. Kuzma continues to look composed scoring his points within the confines of the offense and stepping up his efforts on the defensive end. He is starting to work his way into the conversation for Rookie of the Year.
The Lakers other rookie, yes we have gotten to this point, Lonzo Ball was also excellent on the night. Ball was aggressive from the onset and had one of his best offensive games of his young career. He came out hot going 3-of-3 from 3-point range in the first quarter alone finishing the night 5-of-6 from that distance. Overall he contributed 24 points, five rebounds, five assists and one block on 9-of-16 from the floor. The downside was that he had five turnovers, hit only 1-of-4 from the free throw line and had a minus-13 rating for the game.
After only playing eight minutes in the last game Julius Randle came out with a lot of energy and had a confidence inspiring evening. Randle had 21 points, 10 rebounds, one assists, two steals, one block and a plus-8 rating. He even shot 2-of-3 from deep, hitting a deep 3-pointer to give the Lakers a late lead at 91-90 and capping their comeback from 23 points down.
Los Angeles hung with the Warriors for the bulk of the first half before allowing the Warriors to go on a 20-8 run and go into the break with a 61-44 edge. The first three minutes of the second half were more of the same as Golden State pushed their lead to 71-48. It was from there on that the Lakers were actually the better team. If it wasn’t for a few defensive breakdowns and several tough calls down the stretch, the Lakers could have pulled off their second consecutive spectacular victory. Of particular note, with the game 97-99 in favor of the Warriors, the Lakers had several poor possessions and played careless transition defense. This stretch equated with another moral victory and positive learning experience for a team bursting with potential, but unfortunately, another painful loss.
Leading the way again for the Warriors was Kevin Durant who compiled another impressive stat line with 33 points, seven rebounds, seven assists, two steals, four blocks and a plus-15 rating. It was those blocks and his ability to create for himself or his teamates down the stretch that made the difference in the game.
Draymond Green was an important force in his first game back from a shoulder injury compiling his usual versatile line with 13 points, 11 rebounds, seven assist and two steals.
No. 30 overall draft pick Jordan Bell was also a huge factor in the game with 20 points, 10 rebounds, three assists, one steal and one block. He had a game best plus-22 rating while shooting 9-of-13 from the floor and 2-of-2 from the free throw line. The Chicago Bulls did the rest of the league a huge disservice by allowing the Warriors to acquire him for only cash considerations during the draft this year.
Stats and Observations
- The Lakers did not shoot particularly well as a team going 40-of-94 for 42.6 percent. To compound the issue they allowed the Warriors to shoot 49.4 percent from the floor.
- Los Angeles actually out-shot Golden State from 3-point range going 11-of-29 (37.9 percent) vs. 7-of-24 (29.2 percent).
- The terrible free throw shooting continued for the Lakers as they converted only 15-of-22 (68.2 percent) compared to 22-of-27 (81.5 percent) for the Warriors. This issue has persisted all year and has cost the Lakers dearly during several closely contested games.
- Los Angles out-rebounded Golden State 46-42.
- The Warriors dominated the Lakers in the block category with 13 compared to only five for the Lakers.
- The Lakers lead the league at points in the paint but were outscored 62-52 in that area during the loss on Friday.
- Kentavious Caldwell-Pope missed the last game due to his ongoing legal issues. He was clearly affected as he shot only 4-of-16 and 1-of-10 from downtown.
The Lakers (11-19) head home to take on the Trail Blazers (16-16) on Saturday night. Portland will be without their best player and leading scorer Damian Lillard who will miss his second consecutive game with a hamstring injury. Portland was soundly defeated on Friday night by the Denver Nuggets 102-85 in a game where their starters were largely ineffective.
Los Angeles has proved that they can compete with the best teams in the league, now it is time for them to show that they can beat lesser competition. Especially a game like this at home when their opponent is missing their best player.