For all the scoring prowess Kyle Kuzma has demonstrated since Las Vegas Summer League before his rookie season, he was mired in a bit of a slump entering Sunday’s game with the Orlando Magic.
He had a particularly rough shooting night against the Utah Jazz, though Lakers head coach Luke Walton praised his second-year forward for his efforts on defense and in slowing Joe Ingles. Walton reiterated that stance prior to tipoff Sunday.
“We have really high expectations for Kuz so we ask him to do a lot. That goes from scoring to playing defense to rebounding to guarding perimeter players and post players,” he said.
“For a second-year player, he’s got a lot of responsibility on his plate but I think he’s doing a really nice job of handling it. Kuz wants to win. He ultimately just wants to win. He naturally is a scorer and that’s what he enjoys doing most, but he’s all-in for whatever it takes to win. He’s made some really nice leaps in other parts of his game.”
Donning a headband for the matinee affair, Kuzma got off to a tremendous start. He scored 13 points and 4 assists in the first quarter, both of which were game highs. Kuzma had 10 of the Lakers’ first 14 points and scored or assisted on each of their first seven made baskets.
“I just tried to get back to my ways,” he said of the performance. Try to be super aggressive, attacking the rim, trying to find a rhythm that way instead of shooting jumpers.”
Kuzma scored early in often by exploiting a matchup with Wes Iwundu. Upon checking out of the game, Iwundu never returned. Whether related to that or not, Kuzma undeniably cooled and only scored eight points after the first quarter.
The Lakers also saw a similar trend as a whole, with their comeback effort in the fourth quarter ultimately falling short. They led by as many as 12 points and trailed by 16 in the back-and-forth affair.
“I think we just didn’t hit shots down the stretch. I think we did a great job early in that fourth quarter to get back in the game,” Kuzma said. “We handled our business up until that last two minutes or so.”