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Lakers! Kyle Kuzma’s versatility is growing as the season creeps toward its end

Lakers! Kyle Kuzma’s versatility is growing as the season creeps toward its end
Kyle Kuzma (Harry How / Getty Images)

Hi, this is Tania Ganguli, Lakers beat writer for the L.A. Times, here with your weekly Lakers newsletter.

The finish line for the season is approaching. The Lakers have 12 games left and, in many ways, are just trying to make it to the end. Injuries have made it difficult to hold regular practices because of how few bodies the team has — a situation compounded by the fact that all of the available bodies aren't actually available. More on that later.

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One positive has come out of the injuries, though.

In having to play Kyle Kuzma at small forward, the Lakers have learned he can be pretty effective there. Since taking over March 3, Kuzma has had three double-doubles and scored at least 20 points in three separate games. Last week he set the Lakers' rookie record for made three-pointers in a season. He's now up to 135.

"It is pretty special," Kuzma said. "Any time you have any type of record in any record book, especially with the Lakers, it is pretty special. It is also pretty cool just [because] of the simple fact that everybody said pre-draft and what not I couldn't shoot. Pretty funny, huh, how that works."

Switching positions, Kuzma has had to make some adjustments offensively and even more defensively — a weak spot earlier in the season. When I asked injured Brandon Ingram what he's noticed while watching games from the bench, he mentioned Kuzma's defensive improvement.

Luke Walton has been impressed with how Kuzma has played out of position but still thinks he's best at power forward.

"In today's NBA, he has such an advantage over other fours in this league, especially the way his skill set is," Walton said. "The way he can handle the ball, the way he can run, the way he can shoot. He puts a lot of pressure on a bigger four man to play that type of defense. … But he has definitely proven that as he continues to work on his game, he can be a small forward for us."

Luol Deng won’t play again, but Walton thought about it

I've wondered at various times this season: What would it take for the Lakers to play Luol Deng?

Turns out they'd use him only if the injury situation got so bad they couldn't go into a game without the veteran player.

And the Lakers actually got to that point. Against the Golden State Warriors, four players were out with injuries — three of them wings. Ingram (groin strain), Josh Hart (broken hand) and Kuzma, who sprained his ankle in the previous night's game. Channing Frye has also been out for a month following an appendectomy. Deng still didn't play.

Walton said he did consider it, but after discussions with people he wouldn't identify, as well as Deng, the decision was made that he wouldn't play.

"We just kind of all agreed that with 19 games, if I go out there and let's say, God forbid, something happened," Deng said. "The whole point was play the young guys [and] actually see what they could do in the summer with me and everything. If I was to get injured or anything, it would be a lot harder and it would it would defeat the whole purpose of me not playing 60-something games."

Both the Lakers and Deng hope he can be somewhere else next season, whether that's by waiving and stretching him or trading him. A trade already is difficult because of Deng's salary (the Lakers aren't willing to take back a big contract in exchange), but it would more difficult if he were to get injured.

Deng also acknowledged that because of his salary, there would always be questions about whether he would play. He will end the season having played only 13 minutes.

Since last we spoke

— Ingram started feeling a lot better last weekend. We spoke to him on St. Patrick's Day, and he was unusually happy. Ingram might be nearing his return, though he still hasn't practiced. He might do that Friday, once the Lakers get to Memphis.

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— Hart served as an in-studio analyst for Spectrum SportsNet on Monday, when the Lakers played the Pacers. He did an impression of Brook Lopez, got mocked for how often his teammates refuse to high-five him and said he wants to return to play by March 30. Hart did not come on the Lakers road trip and has been meeting with a physical therapist who specializes in hands, the same one Larry Nance Jr. used while recovering from a broken hand earlier in the season.

Isaiah Thomas told me that if the Lakers want him in a backup role, he has not ruled out returning for that. I asked him about that after reading a Twitter Q&A with fans, some of whom said they hoped he remained a Laker. His responses indicated he hoped so too. This, a few days after he told USA Today that he's no sixth man.

Lonzo Ball has hit another shooting slump. It began March 11 when he had back-to-back games of 2-for-11 shooting. He hasn't shot better than 27.3% since.

Up next

The Lakers play the Pelicans on Thursday night on what will be New Orleans' third game in three nights. After, they will have 11 games left in the regular season, including two on this road trip.

That's all for today. As always, send questions if you've got them, and I'll do my best to get you answers.

Schedule

All times Pacific

Tonight at New Orleans, 5 p.m.

Saturday at Memphis, 5 p.m.

Monday at Detroit, 5 p.m.

Wednesday vs. Dallas, 7:30 p.m.

Until next time

Stay tuned for future newsletters. Subscribe here, and I'll come right to your inbox. Something else you'd like to see? Email me. Or follow me on Twitter @taniaganguli.

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