The shorthanded Los Angeles Lakers managed to get back into the win column with a much-needed victory over the Denver Nuggets on Monday night. Regardless, it is evident that the team is still looking to find its stride without two of its primary ball handlers in LeBron James and Dennis Schroder.
With James still listed as day-to-day with ankle soreness and Schroder ruled out due to health and safety protocols until next week, the onus fell on bench players like Alex Caruso and Talen Horton-Tucker to step up and fill the void.
Caruso received the starting nod at point guard and finished with 11 points, five rebounds and three assists in the 93-89 win. Although his three turnovers came during a rough stretch in the third quarter, his efforts on both ends of the floor were enough to help the Lakers snap a three-game losing streak.
L.A. will be relying heavily on Caruso to continue facilitating things on the offensive end with James and Schroder out. He feels the team will need to be more vocal in their absence and do a better job of making the right choices on offense.
“I think my main responsibility is getting us organized, getting us in stuff that’s positive for us offensively,” Caruso said. “Just being vocal on defense. LeBron [James] is our main vocal leader on the court. I do a little bit and some other guys, too. He does the lion’s share for us, so a lot of me telling guys where to be offensively and defensively. Then just making good decisions, easy reads in pick-and-rolls and hitting guys when they’re open. Being aggressive when I get opportunities and making solid choices with the basketball.”
Caruso added that he will continue to work on finding the balance between making a pass or taking it himself.
“That’s something that I just continue to do. My nature is to create for others and be a positive influence on offense moving the ball, but a lot of times with the way teams guard us, there’s opportunity to be aggressive and score.
“It’s just about reading the game and like I said, there’s going to be minutes with Dennis [Schroder] out and Bron out for whoever knows how long, so there’s going to be an opportunity for me to get more comfortable with that or even more comfortable than I already am and just continue to make the right decisions.”
The Lakers could certainly use more playmaking after recording just 18 assists to 20 turnovers in the win over Denver. However, they may need Caruso to stay aggressive on offense given the lack of scoring options in the backcourt.
The Purple and Gold could be even more shorthanded against the L.A. Clippers with Horton-Tucker listed as questionable with a calf injury. The outcome of this crosstown rivalry could hinge on Caruso’s ability to control the offense.
Drummond praises Caruso’s skill set
Although Andre Drummond is expected to play a key role in helping the Lakers defend their title, it is clear that he is still in the process of getting acclimated to his new team. While the absence of James and Schroder has stymied the process, Caruso’s recent play has served as a bit of a stabilizing factor for him.
Drummond feels their skill sets make them an ideal 1-2 punch and shared some high praise for his ability to lead the offense.
“Alex is a far better point guard than people give him credit for,” Drummond said. “He’s a very good floor general and to touch on the question about leadership, Alex is a great leader for us. He brings us all in when it comes to the huddles, he’s always in constant communication with everybody on the team.
“So I think making his job easier will be fun for me because obviously he’s not a guy who’s gonna break somebody off one-on-one so setting the pick-and-roll and having that game with him is a chemistry thing that I need to build with him just spending some time with him watching film and practice to learn where he likes his pick-and-rolls and when he wants them, what hand he likes to use to go for layups when I seal to close off that area for him. So it’s just many different variables of his game that I can help him with to make him better.”
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