Ball movement is imperative in winning basketball games as crisp, precise and persistent passing can pick apart scrambling defenders. The Los Angeles Lakers manifested a passing extravaganza against the Golden State Warriors Monday night.
The game stayed close after the opening period, but the Lakers turned it up a notch in the second quarter and never looked back. Every player played an important role in some fashion, but passing is where Los Angeles thrived once the lead gradually expanded.
Eight of the 11 players who stepped on the court logged an assist for the Lakers. LeBron James and Talen Horton-Tucker dwelled at the nucleus of that, registering 11 and 10 assists, respectively. As a team, L.A. garnered 36 assists; they average 24.7 per game on the season.
Lakers head coach Frank Vogel explained the reasoning behind Los Angeles’ sharp ball movement against Golden State.
“That’s what we’ve been preaching all year, to share the basketball and play for each other,” Vogel said. “I thought in particular, tonight, when we got to the paint we made better decisions than we’ve been doing the last few games.”
Vogel added the ability to convert on 3-point attempts played a role in the augmented assists.
“But we’ve been sharing the ball like this for some time, we just haven’t been knocking down shots like this from the perimeter and I think you saw that tonight along with some other finishes at the rim,” Vogel said.
On the season, the Lakers are shooting 35.2% from long range, placing 23rd in the league. However, against Golden State, that figure leaped to 40.7%, as L.A. hit 11-27 from deep.
Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma finished the contest with another impressive all-around performance. Buried under the 17-point, 5-rebound, 2-steal game is his assists total: four. Kuzma averages 1.2 a game, and he explained how the improved ball movement will ease the burden while Anthony Davis continues to nurse a lower-leg injury.
“Super contagious,” Kuzma said of the Lakers’ passing. “It’s just a fun brand of basketball and that’s the type of basketball we have to play while AD is out. That’s one of the most fun games we’ve had as a team this season, I don’t know how many assists we had, maybe plus-30 assists.
“It’s just fun, everybody’s touching the ball, everybody’s moving and you can’t really guard it. Anytime you have that many assists, you’re probably gonna win the game.”
Vogel, James have faith in Horton-Tucker as part of Lakers’ playoff rotation
As injuries and health and safety protocols have decimated the Lakers’ ball-handlers throughout the season — most recently Alex Caruso — the duties have shifted to Horton-Tucker to create for himself and others.
As aforementioned, the second-year combo guard put up one of the best games of his young career, going for 18 points and 10 assists in 28 minutes off the bench. The improvements Horton-Tucker is making has the attention of Vogel and James, and both are confident in his abilities come playoff time.
“Oh for sure, just the amount of minutes and opportunity that he’s gotten this year, he didn’t have that under his belt last year,” Vogel said. “He joined us in the bubble basically having played most of the season in the G League and basically had no experience.
“So to throw him in there in a playoff series just shows the type of confidence I had in him. But it’s a whole nother level now, of course, just him being a rotation player all throughout this season.”
James added to Vogel’s optimism about the youngster’s comfort level when the playoffs commence.
“Yeah, Talen. He’s new, he got a little bit of minutes last year but he’s new,” James said. We’ve got our veterans, Trezz will be ready, I know Dennis will be ready, I know Marc will be ready for the postseason run. But Talen is new pretty much to our extended season. But I know he’ll be ready for it as well.”
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