The Los Angeles Lakers were in much better shape when they defeated the Denver Nuggets 124-121 and the quality of their performance had a lot to do with Kyle Kuzma.
The 25-year-old started in the absence of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and punctuated a great game by helping the Lakers secure the win with a dagger 3-pointer on a beautiful play drawn by head coach Frank Vogel. Kuzma finished with 25 points, six rebounds and three assists while also helping the team on the defensive end.
The Lakers went +16 in the stretches with the forward on the floor with the offense showing a significant improvement throughout the night compared to previous seeding games. Kuzma has truly been a bright spot for the purple and gold in Orlando, proving his impressive NBA restart practice showings were not a fluke.
And LeBron James pointed the Utah alum’s form as key to the team’s title pursuit in the Walt Disney World bubble. “In order for us to win a championship he has to be our third-best player,” Jame said. “And if I’m struggling, or A.D. is struggling, he has to be our second-best player on any given night. We can’t win a championship if Kuz doesn’t play well.”
The four-month hiatus allowed Kuzma to heal the foot injury that had been holding him back before the season was stopped in March, and to prepare himself both physically and mentally for the NBA restart. The young forward and the Lakers are now reaping the rewards with Kuzma becoming an offensive force and one of the team’s most reliable defenders.
And James highlighted Kuzma’s defensive effort, saying his progress in that area is “a step in the right direction” for his career growth. “He’s only in his third year but he’s gotten better, his game is starting to slow down, he’s starting to see the game at a pace that not only works for himself but for our team,” James added.
“A confident player and you’ve got to have confidence to be able to take a shot like that and make it.”
Kuzma: It’s all about trust
The Lakers surprised the Nuggets with Kuzma taking the last shot of the game to seal the win. He drilled the three over Denver’s Bol Bol after James inbounded the ball to Davis who then passed it to Kuzma coming off setting a screen.
“Every time we ran that play in practice I hit the shot, so they went to me,” Kuzma explained. “Obviously, the play nine out of 10 times is going to LeBron. They called my number, and it’s all about trust.”
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