If a February game at Staples Center can have an iconic image, Thursday night’s was that of LeBron James, zooming toward the basket like a cartoon in “Space Jam,” with his arm extended like the Statue of Liberty, before dunking the ball hard.
James was spectacular late in Thursday’s game and a big part of why the Lakers won. But they also got really important contributions from several other players including Kyle Kuzma, Brandon Ingram, Josh Hart and Reggie Bullock.
Here are five takeaways from the Lakers’ 111-106 win over the Houston Rockets on Thursday night.
1. Ingram came out strong right from the beginning, with seven points in the first quarter and 15 total in the first half. James was asked about Ingram being a “wingman” to James, and the veteran disagreed with the characterization. “He wasn’t a wingman for me, he was special for our team,” James said. “BI’s very special. When he’s rebounding like that, it just activates the rest of his game. He did a great job of rebounding, he did a great job of getting in the paint and getting his free throws. Being in attack mode all game.” Indeed, Ingram shot 14 free throws and made 11 of them.
2. Hart missed a few games before the break with right knee tendinitis. Thursday’s game offered another example of the way Hart can change a game with the intangibles he offers. He was critically important for the Lakers in the second half after not playing in the first half. “That’s why people should not judge on the stats or the box scores; he was two of three and he was plus-22,” Lakers coach Luke Walton said. “He was diving for loose balls, coming up with rebounds, just making winning plays. And when he plays like that, he’s really important for us.”
3. Kuzma also took a charge on James Harden, and he contributed 18 points, five assists and six rebounds. He provided a sure and confident shooter on the floor for James to pass to, along with Reggie Bullock. Postgame, though, Kuzma couldn’t stop talking about defense. “It has to be defense,” Kuzma said. “That’s the biggest thing. The majority of the season we have been a top-10 defensive team. And we want to accomplish our goals and get into the playoffs, and winning big, that’s where it has to start. I think that is sustainable because it’s all effort.”
4. The Lakers, known to be horrible free throw shooters, did much better on Thursday. They made 81.8%of their free throws as a whole, including 18 of their final 19. In a five-point game, that can’t be discounted.