They spent the last eight days staring down their idols, facing the players the watched as kids and getting used to facing dominant teams in front of hostile crowds.
It all steeled the Lakers rookies.
“He told me, ‘I’m about to start going,’ ” Ball said.
“I said, ‘All right I got you.’ He did what he did and I tried to do the best I could.”
Ball and Kuzma tried to lead the Lakers to their first win of the season against the NBA champion Golden State Warriors. The Warriors, with their home crowd behind them, proved to be too much, even without injured star Stephen Curry.
The Warriors won their 11th straight game, beating the Lakers 113-106 to improve to 26-6 overall and 3-0 in the season series. The loss dropped the Lakers to 11-19.
“They were two of our more mentally tough guys out there,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said of Kuzma and Ball.
“When it got tough I felt like the two of them really kept us in it until everyone was ready to reengage and get back into the fight.”
Kuzma scored a team-high 27 points and became the first Lakers rookie since Jerry West in 1961 to have three consecutive games with 25 or more points. This followed a 38-point performance against the Houston Rockets on Wednesday.
Ball made his first four three-point attempts and scored 24 points with five rebounds and five assists.
“Any time he’s hitting the three ball,” Kuzma said, “he’s pretty damn good.”
The game closed the toughest four-game stretch any team will play this year — in the last eight days the Lakers played the Warriors twice and also faced the Rockets (Western Conference leaders) and Cleveland Cavaliers (defending Eastern Conference champion).
The Lakers used a similar starting lineup that was effective in a win against the Rockets.
Caldwell-Pope rejoined the starting lineup after missing Wednesday’s game; he is serving a jail sentence that doesn’t allow him to leave the state. He is released for Lakers games and practices, so he flew to the Bay Area on Friday morning.
“We’ve been here for him,” Corey Brewer said. “We’re going to be here for him if he needs anything, however we can help him. That’s what teammates are for. Hasn’t been a distraction or anything.”
To keep Caldwell-Pope in shape while they are away, the Lakers have held individual sessions with team interns and ball boys.
“We get updates and they said he had a couple of great workouts,” Walton said.
That will get easier as the Lakers return home.
Though the Lakers kept pace with the Warriors in their first two meetings this season — ultimately losing in overtime Monday — Golden State didn’t take long to pull away on Friday night. They led by only three after one quarter but increased the lead to 17 at halftime.
When the Warriors took a 23-point lead in the third quarter, the Lakers gritted their teeth and showed their unwillingness to be embarrassed.
They went on a 20-6 run in the next six minutes. They eventually took a brief one-point lead in the fourth quarter.
“I love our group of guys,” Walton said.
“The way they compete night in and night out against some really good teams I think is really impressive.”
When: 6:30 p.m., Saturday
On the air: TV: Spectrum SportsNet, Spectrum Deportes, Radio: 710, 1330
Follow Tania Ganguli on Twitter @taniaganguli