Suspensions to Brandon Ingram and Rajon Rondo forced the Los Angeles Lakers to play shorthanded and adjust their lineup and rotations against the San Antonio Spurs, who represented a third veteran opponent in as many games.
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The Lakers nearly pulled off a tremendous comeback despite falling behind by as many as 18 points in the first quarter, but they were unable to hold off the Spurs’ late charge in overtime. Their 0-3 start to the season is a first since beginning the 2016 season 0-4.
Despite remaining winless heading into Tuesday’s road matchup with the Phoenix Suns, there’s reason to view the glass as half full.
When life gives you suspensions, Kyle Kuzma makes lemonade
The Lakers have depth. Without Ingram and Rondo, Kuzma slid into the starting five and lit up Staples Center. Instead of grinding out minutes as a small-ball backup center, Kuzma started at the three and was set free.
“I got a chance to be in the starting lineup and made the most of the opportunity,” he said of the time at small forward. Channeling his All-Rookie self, Kuzma finished with a team-high 37 points (one shy of his career high) and eight rebounds.
Josh Hart continues to beat strong
Here’s a thought: Hart is the second-best player on the Lakers roster. He is a junkyard dog and he set the tone for his teammates. Hart was everywhere against the Spurs. Coming off the bench, he led the Lakers in rebounds (10) and steals (two).
Hart added 20 points on 8-for-14 shooting and 4-of-7 from three-point territory. Add to it his relentless energy that comes with relentless determination. “We’re good. We have a young team and it’s a learning experience,” Hart said after the loss. “Down the stretch, we won’t be losing these kind of games.”
Jonathan Williams takes center stage
Did the Lakers find their backup center in the unlikeliest of candidates? When JaVale McGee got in foul trouble in the fourth quarter, Williams didn’t just fill in, he excelled.
“I was kind of nervous,” Williams said of his first game with the Lakers. “But I mean, once you step on that court and get that first down and back it kind of just goes away.”
He finished with eight points (4-of-5 shooting), four rebounds and three blocks in 14 meaningful minutes. Williams was cut from the Lakers on Oct. 13 and re-signed six days later to a two-way contract.
Three days after that, in a clutch battle with the Spurs, Williams had his number called and he rose to the occasion in his NBA debut.