LeBron James strode through the tunnels of Staples Center en route to his locker room and pregame ritual. He wore a long-sleeved grey shirt with the name “Kaepernick,” across the back. It wasn’t the only social statement of the evening.
With 40 seconds remaining and the Lakers up by one, a vibrant Staples Center was on its feet calling for defense. Brandon Ingram answered the crowd’s call with a steal, fast break, and pair of free throws to give the Lakers room to breathe. Ingram’s playmaking down the stretch was the cherry on top of a 31 point, nine rebound performance.
For the third time in as many games, Los Angeles trotted out a new starting five. With Rajon Rondo out on rest and Lonzo Ball not yet cleared to play, Ingram started at point guard.
Harkening back to his time running point last February, the 6’9″ (traditional) small forward was everywhere. Less than one minute in, Lebron James connected with a cutting Ingram for the first bucket of the game. Five minutes later, Staples Center erupted when James hit his point guard on the fast break for a slam.
Without a conventional floor general, turnovers became an issue early on. Seven turnovers in the first quarter gifted their opponent 11 points, and the Kings led 39-32 after one.
Ingram wasn’t the only Laker to bring the ball up the court. With less than a minute remaining in the half, James went coast to coast to tie the game at 64. James’ night was done after 16 first-half minutes and he finished with 18 points, four assists, and two rebounds. The Lakers led 67-66 going into the locker room.
Josh Hart led the Laker charge in the third. The self-proclaimed “junkyard dog” fought through screens on defense and drove to the bucket relentlessly on offense. Hart finished with 16 points and four rebounds.
With about eight minutes remaining in a close game, Luke Walton subbed in three of his starters. Kyle Kuzma, who made his first start of the preseason, joined Ingram and Hart in propelling the Lakers to a clutch time victory. Kuzma contributed across the board with 17 points, six boards, three assists, and two steals .
The Lakers will face the L.A. Clippers on Saturday at the Honda Center in Anaheim. Tip-off is set for 7:00 PM PST.