Kyle Kuzma went back to the bench for the Los Angeles Lakers as Brandon Ingram came back from injury to reclaim his starting spot, but the rookie forward forced his way into closing time for the team with an 18-point performance to power a 103-93 win over the Dallas Mavericks.
Brook Lopez scored 13 points in the first quarter to key the Lakers early, who shot 70 percent in the opening 12 minutes. But like the rest of the team, Lopez couldn’t keep it going in the second quarter as the team racked up turnovers (10 in the half).
The Lakers also struggled defensively, allowing the Mavericks easy offense to hang around in spite of the hot shooting and finish the first half with a 56-55 lead.
Rookie Dennis Smith Jr. also came out ahead of Lonzo Ball over the first 24 minutes of their final rookie year showdown, opening up with 14 points on while knocking down four of his five 3-point attempts.
The Lakers’ saw that deficit increase to 13 at one point in the third quarter but battled back with a 16-0 run to outscore Dallas 27-25 in the period and take an 82-81 lead heading into the fourth.
Making the feat more impressive was that they did so without Ball, who injured his previously banged-up left knee and did not return to the game because of what the team called a knee contusion.
As Dallas’ offense went in the tank in the fourth quarter, the Lakers didn’t need Ball, because his rookie teammate was ready to do some heavy lifting. Kuzma took a role change in stride and ultimately found himself on the floor to finish the game out.
As the Lakers’ pulled away in the middle of the fourth, Kuzma made plays on both ends, hitting a three and finishing an alley-oop on offense while also taking a charge and coming up with a key block to give Los Angeles momentum.
Kuzma led a balanced effort for the non-injured Lakers in the lineup. Lopez finished with 22 points and seven rebounds, while Julius Randle had another strong game with 20 points and 10 rebounds in yet another double-double.
Meanwhile for the Mavericks, Smith didn’t score in the second half while Harrison Barnes needed 15 shots to score 17 points, and neither played much in the second half as the Mavericks played a lineup that appeared only designed to succeed in a tanking sense as Los Angeles pulled away.