After a pair of subpar performances to open the 2018-19 NBA season, Kyle Kuzma erupted in Monday’s loss to the San Antonio Spurs. It was likely no coincidence that it came with the Los Angeles Lakers inserting Kuzma into the starting lineup.
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He often flourished in that role last season, and along with again coming off the bench, is now being asked to play backup center. He was given a reprieve against the Spurs, starting at the more comfortable and natural small forward position.
“I mean, yeah,” Kuzma answered when asked if that contributed to his success. “I got a chance to be in the starting lineup and just made the most of the opportunity.”
He scored 19 points in the first half, with 14 coming in the second quarter. Kuzma’s scoring kept the Lakers afloat while LeBron James missed his first six shots and didn’t pick up steam until the second half.
“He was spectacular,” James said of Kuzma. “Made big shots, made big plays, kept us in the game when we were down. He did a little bit of everything.”
Kuzma was similarly effusive of playing alongside James as a starter. “He’s such a great player. You’ve always got to be ready for his drives, he may pass it to you at the last minute, hit you on the cut, or just score,” Kuzma said.
While he made 4-of-10 attempts from three-point territory, Kuzma was particularly effective inside. The Lakers scored 75 points in the paint, with 22 coming from the second-year forward. He finished with 37 points, one off tying a career high set last season against the Houston Rockets.
He’s expected to remain in the lineup for the next three games while Brandon Ingram finishes serving a four-game suspension.