Kyle Kuzma: Lakers Need Next Man Up Mentality Without LeBron James

Facing the Houston Rockets on the second night of a back-to-back was going to be a tough task, but things for the Los Angeles Lakers were made all the more difficult with news that both LeBron James and Alex Caruso would sit out due to minor injuries.

Anytime one of the Lakers’ superstars is out most immediately look to Kyle Kuzma as the player to step up on the offensive end. He did so again, leading the Lakers in scoring in their loss to the Rockets.

But with James and Caruso out, along with Avery Bradley and Rajon Rondo also out of the picture, Thursday’s game offered a major opportunity for many other players to show that they deserve some playing time once the playoffs begin.

Unfortunately for the Lakers, most didn’t take advantage of the opportunity presented to them. “I think it was a valuable lesson for us,” Kuzma said. “For us, we had a lot of guys out, and we have to have a next man up mentality, no matter what.

“And also play with that certain edge and energy, make the right plays and play more mistake-free basketball. Especially when you have valuable playmakers out like ‘Bron and A.C. That margin for error gets slightly tighter. When we don’t have those playmakers out there we have to play as a team more, offensively and defensively as well.”

The Lakers have had performances throughout the season in which players have stepped up when either James or Anthony Davis was out, including one against the same Rockets.

Quinn Cook got the start on this night and shot just 2-of-12 from the field, while Dion Waiters and JR Smith combined to shoot 3-for-14 off the bench. Surprisingly, rookie Talen Horton-Tucker outplayed his veteran teammates, finishing with 10 points on 4-of-6 shooting and notching four steals.

Hopefully the Lakers won’t face a situation in the playoffs where James or Davis is unavailable, but you never know what can happen not just as far as injuries or even unexpected foul trouble in a game.

The loss to the Rockets was not the best showing for a number of Lakers who could be relied upon, but all players have to be ready when the pressure rises in the playoffs and bring the energy that this Lakers team needs.

Kuzma finding shooting success in bubble

The one silver lining during the Lakers’ struggles inside the Orlando bubble has been the play of Kuzma. He is averaging 14.4 points while shooting 46% from the field. Additionally, after struggling with his 3-point shot this season Kuzma has been the only reliable deep shooter inside the bubble, making 12 of his 26 3-pointers.

Kuzma has also turned himself into more than just a scorer, impressing with his improved defensive effort while also contributing on the glass and as a playmaker. When discussing his play, Kuzma pointed to the work he put in while the season was suspended.

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