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Lakers report: Kuzma rebounds from struggling debut for improved Game 2

Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma is fouled by Clippers forward Montrezl Harrell during the season opener.
(Harry How / Getty Images)

Lonzo Ball wasn’t the only rookie who played better in his second game than his first.

After a blistering Summer League and preseason campaign, Kyle Kuzma struggled in his first regular season NBA game. While Kuzma finished Thursday’s game with eight points on four-of-eight shooting, he was 1-of-5 through three quarters. Kuzma made all three of his fourth-quarter shots in garbage time.

On Friday he made a bigger impact much earlier.

In the second quarter, Kuzma made four of five shots and through three he had 13. Kuzma finished with 15 points, two assists and three rebounds. Although he only played 18 minutes in the Lakers’ season opener Thursday, he played 28 minutes Friday.

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“Little bit less jitters,” Kuzma said. “First game, opening game of my NBA career. I was able to settle down. Made some shots. Made the game simple, really focused on defense, and everything else opened up.”

Kuzma, who led the Lakers in scoring during the preseason, played the entire fourth quarter Friday in Phoenix, including the critical moments at the end of the game as the Lakers closed out the Suns.

It was Kuzma to whom Ball threw two of his nine assists, including his final one as the Lakers made their final push.

“Any time me and him are on the court, we have a little connection,” Kuzma said.

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Incognito triple double quest

Ball said he never looks at statistics until after the game ends, so he had no idea he was as close as he was to a triple double.

His teammates didn’t either. Even as he left the locker room Friday night, Kuzma still hadn’t heard.

“What’d he fall short?” Kuzma asked.

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Told just one assist, he replied: “He did it in summer league, why not the NBA?”

Brandon Ingram, also on the court in the game’s closing minutes, didn’t know either.

“If I would’ve known he needed one more assist, I probably would’ve got it for him,” Ingram said. “I think I had a three I missed. We’re not gonna say nothing about that.”

Randle limited again

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Julius Randle came off the bench Friday, just like he did on Thursday.

Before the game, Lakers Coach Luke Walton said he thought Randle’s mood was good Friday and he expected Randle to have a good game that night.

While Randle played a little over 17 minutes Thursday night, he played even less on Friday. Against the Suns, Randle played only 12 minutes. He scored eight points with one rebound and one assist.

Brewer offers energy

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Walton went with Corey Brewer in the starting lineup Friday after starting Luol Deng on Thursday.

“It felt like we needed some more natural energy in certain parts of the game that we struggled to find for some reason,” Walton said. “That shouldn’t ever be the case in a home opener but that goes to being a young guy not seeing the ball go through the net. We are going to change some things up rotationwise, minuteswise and see if that helps.”

Brewer has been the best mentor the Lakers have had on their team. He’s the player who most often helps the younger players on the roster learn defensive concepts.

On Friday night he also offered a spark in the starting lineup. Brewer had the highest plus/minus rating of any Lakers player at 14. He finished with five points, two assists, two rebounds and three steals.

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UP NEXT

VS. PELICANS

When: 6:30 p.m. Sunday

On Air: TV – Spectrum SportsNet, Spectrum Deportes; Radio – 710, 1330

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Update: After serving his two-game suspension for pleading guilty to operating a motor vehicle while intoxicated, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope will be in the Lakers lineup. It’ll be his debut with his new team. … Rookie guard Josh Hart might see more action after playing 2:20 on Friday. That was Hart’s first regular season game after he missed the season opener due to Achilles bursitis.

tania.ganguli@latimes.com

Follow Tania Ganguli on Twitter @taniaganguli


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