Lakers’ Kyle Kuzma shines with 41 points against the team he grew up rooting for
It was Kyle Kuzma’s turn Wednesday.
His turn to get hot and shoulder the load as the Lakers get through their slate of games without LeBron James. It was Kuzma’s turn to get the superstar calls and the superstar reception.
Against the Detroit Pistons, the team he grew up loving, Kuzma scored 41 points, setting a career high, all of them in the first three quarters. He missed his first four three-pointers, but then made five of six. In all, he shot 16 of 24. He threw in two rebounds (but no assists) for good measure.
The Lakers defeated the Pistons 113-100 behind Kuzma’s exceptional scoring and his defense on Blake Griffin. His 41 points were the most by a Laker in 30 minutes since the shot clock was implemented during the 1954-55 season.
“It’s pretty cool, honestly,” Kuzma said. “That’s the team I grew up watching. My fondest memories are them beating the Lakers. What a coincidence. It’s pretty awesome, especially just to do it in Staples is a blessing.
“I know I’m a great shooter. My percentage may not reflect that, but I’m always confident in shooting and I’m always in the gym trying to continue to put work in.”
While he outscored his teammates by a wide margin, the Lakers got key contributions from several others.
Lonzo Ball’s keen eye played a crucial role in keeping the Lakers afloat early, when they struggled to hit jumpers. Brandon Ingram’s passing and rebounding gave the Lakers opportunities they needed.
It gave the Lakers (23-19) their third win in eight games without James. The Pistons fell to 17-22.
Kuzma’s hot start contrasted with his previous outing. Against the Dallas Mavericks on Monday, Kuzma made only four of 20 shots, playing after missing two games with a lower back bruise. He said then that his back still felt tight from the injury, and he was rusty. He also said he would keep shooting until his shooting slump subsided — a common mentality for shooters.
On Tuesday, Kuzma woke up feeling better, so he wasted no time trying to fix what went wrong Monday night.
“He was in the gym and he got up 500 shots,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said. “He was working on his stroke and working on his form from what he noticed in the breakdown of his jumper, trying to get it better. It’s not like he just woke up and had a hot night.”
Said Kuzma: “I shot four for 20, so that’s a reason to go to the gym.”
Detroit won the first quarter, in part because the Lakers struggled to hit a jump shot. After one, 18 of the Lakers’ 20 points came in the paint, and the other two were free throws. Even then, Kuzma was heating up. He scored 12 points in the quarter, making six of 10 shots. All four of his misses were three-pointers.
Kuzma scored seven points in the second quarter and then exploded for 22 in the third. At one point, Kuzma had 32 points with no rebounds and no assists.
“My teammates allowed me to get a lot of shots, finding me,” Kuzma said. “For the most part, everything was in the rhythm of the offense, which was a good thing for everyone.”
The Lakers led by 16 when Walton replaced Kuzma with 1:06 left in the third quarter. Beasley’s big fourth quarter ensured that the only real drama was whether Lakers fans would get tacos, a promotion activated when the Lakers win and hold an opponent to fewer than 100 points.
Pistons guard Bruce Brown denied the fans tacos with a basket in the final seconds, but they still got something: the Lakers’ first home victory since Dec. 30.
Follow Tania Ganguli on Twitter @taniaganguli
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