Both teams have struggled with their free-throw shooting this year. In fact, only the 76ers and the Charlotte Hornets are shooting worse than the Lakers’ 71% from the line.
“Some of it’s a skill thing,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said. “A lot of it for us I think is a focus thing. We do free throws at the end of pretty much every practice. We did a free-throw competition at the end of training camp. The bigs went 12 of 14 and the guards went 13 of 14. They’re able to hit free throws and they’ve had nights where they’ve shot them really well.”
Brook Lopez and Kyle Kuzma are the Lakers’ two starters who shoot better than their team average. Lopez has made 83.3% of his free throws and Kuzma 81.3%. Lonzo Ball has made only 50%, with 12 of 24, Brandon Ingram is at 63.8% (44 of 69), and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope is shooting exactly 71%.
“For us it’s understanding, one: how important they are and, two: especially for some of the young guys, take your time when you’re up there, be confident, breathe, relax and just knock ‘em down,” Walton said. “I think that’ll come with experience and we’re going to keep working on them every day.”
South Bay switch
The Lakers sent center Ivica Zubac and guard Josh Hart to the South Bay Lakers, their development league affiliate. The team is on a two-game trip, for which Hart and Zubac are expected to remain with them, unless the Lakers develop an injury situation that requires bringing them back, Walton said. The South Bay Lakers will play in Iowa on Wednesday and then Austin on Saturday.
Zubac spent last season going back and forth between the Lakers and what was then called the D-Fenders. He began to get playing time in January and then started 11 games, most of them in March.
Hart was the 30th overall pick in this year’s draft. After recovering from a training camp hamstring injury, Hart had seen some decent reserve minutes for the Lakers. On their recent trip he played 25 minutes total in Boston and Washington, then he did not play in the second half of the trip in Milwaukee or Phoenix.
Walton opted to play Vander Blue instead of Hart in Milwaukee, which is Blue’s hometown, because he thought the Lakers needed to help their scoring. Blue also played 5:31 in Phoenix.
That Blue hasn’t forced shots and scoring opportunities has impressed Walton.
“He’s done a really nice job as far as being professional and trying to play the way that we want to play, and that’s not hunting shots,” Walton said. “For someone that’s been dying to get his opportunity to buy into what we’ve been doing, [he] has been impressive.”
Scouting the 76ers
As of Tuesday afternoon, Walton had not yet properly scouted the 76ers. That was Tuesday night’s homework. But as a fan of the game, Walton has seen highlights of their games and caught some on television.
They’ll offer an opportunity for Walton to see his young team against another young team that’s a little bit further in its development.
“They have a really young core and we have a young core too,” Kuzma said. “Hopefully each of those cores kind of grow and develop and fight for championships.”
One player Kuzma knows will test the Lakers is Ben Simmons, who is an early frontrunner for rookie of the year. The 6-10 Simmons was part of the 2016 draft class, but he missed last season with an injury. He is averaging 17.8 points, 9.2 rebounds and 7.5 assists.
“He’s a very intelligent basketball player,” Walton said. “He sees angles, he attacks those, he’s big and strong, he’s unselfish. Even last night I thought he had a layup at the rim at the end of the game … that he dropped off to his big man. Plays like that are winning basketball plays. They become contagious. And he’s got the size and strength to take advantage of the stuff that he sees.”
LAKERS UP NEXT
When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday.
On air: TV – ESPN, Radio – 710, 1330
Update: Philadelphia beat the Clippers 109-105 on Monday. Joel Embiid scored 32 points with 16 rebounds, 14 of them defensive. They also got 31 points from Robert Covington, who hit a three-pointer that gave the 76ers the lead for good with 33 seconds left in the game.
Follow Tania Ganguli on Twitter @taniaganguli