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Lakers show how fast breaks keep them ahead when defense breaks down

Lakers forward Anthony Davis dunks over Oklahoma City Thunder center Nerlens Noel.
Lakers forward Anthony Davis dunks over Oklahoma City Thunder center Nerlens Noel (9) during the second half of the Lakers’ win Tuesday at Staples Center.
(Robert Gauthier / Los Angeles Times)

In their Tuesday night win over the Oklahoma City Thunder, the Lakers got a glimpse of how terrifying their offense can be for opponents.

One statistic showed that clearly — fast-break points. The Lakers scored 30 points off fast breaks, which is nearly twice their average this season.

“When we play fast we’re tough to beat,” Anthony Davis said. “We’re able to score a lot of points but obviously we can’t do that if we don’t get stops. We try to harp on defense, get stops and run, and for a team like [the Thunder] who like a slow-paced game … if we get out and run, we play our style of pace, our style of game, it’s tougher for them.”

Tuesday’s game was one in which the Lakers deviated from what worked for them during most of the early part of the season — their defense. They had trouble stopping the Thunder, including in transition, giving up 16 fast-break points. Transition defense has been particularly problematic for the Lakers, who give up 17 fast-break points per game, which is second worst in the NBA.

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Overall, though, the Lakers’ defense has generally been ahead of their offense. Allowing 100.5 points per 100 possessions, they have the second-best defensive rating in the NBA after only the Utah Jazz.

It’s their offense they feel can be a lot better than it has been, even though their offensive rating is in the top 10.

Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma is expected to play Friday against the Oklahoma City Thunder despite sustaining an eye abrasion in Tuesday’s win.

Because their defense had some lapses on Tuesday, the Thunder kept the game close until the final seconds. The Lakers needed every bit of explosion they could get from their offense.

“The last two games, the Atlanta game and this game, we had some exceptional sequences on the defensive end, where we either got a deflection or blocked shot, or just great defensive rebounding, that allowed us to get a live rebound or a live ball turnover and we’re getting out and running,” Lakers Coach Frank Vogel said. “You see what we look like when LeBron has the ball in his hands and he’s going full speed, like a freight train, and the shooters running with him, or lob threats running with him, we can be really potent. That was a big part of the win tonight.”

Rondo’s swag

Lakers guard Rajon Rondo drives past Oklahoma City’s Dennis Schroder
Lakers guard Rajon Rondo drives past Oklahoma City’s Dennis Schroder during the Lakers’ win Tuesday.
(Ringo H.W. Chiu / Associated Press)

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One thing that gave the Lakers’ transition defense a burst was the continuing integration of Rajon Rondo.

Two of his 10 assists on Tuesday came on a behind-the-back no-look pass to Anthony Davis, and a high-arching lob to James.

“It’s a sign that guys are making shots for me. Other than that, I can’t put too much into it,” Rondo said. “LeBron had 10 [assists] as well. I’m happy, more so is the team collectively moving the ball. I want to take pride in taking care of the ball tonight.”

Vogel likes what he saw from Rondo against the Thunder.

“Rondo had 10 assists, but Rajon’s statistics are not measured on the stat sheet,” Vogel said. “It’s measured in swag.

“He just gives us some confidence and an air about us that we know we’re going into battle with a heck of a basketball player. He just helps our swag.”

Kuzma cleared

Kyle Kuzma is expected to play for the Lakers against Oklahoma City on Friday despite sustaining an abrasion to his right eye in Tuesday’s win over the Thunder, the Lakers said.

Kuzma sustained the injury when Thunder forward Darius Bazley inadvertently elbowed him in his eye during the second quarter. Kuzma had to leave the court because he was bleeding. He returned after halftime and watched the rest of the game from the bench. Although Vogel said Kuzma was cleared by the medical staff, but he didn’t play him the rest of the game.

“I used my better judgment,” Vogel said. “It didn’t look good. I just felt like, (unless) we absolutely needed him, let’s let the other guys handle the rest of this game.”

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Kuzma was diagnosed and underwent additional testing on Wednesday, the team said. The Lakers said he is expected to practice Thursday ahead of Friday’s game.

The third-year forward is averaging 13.1 points per game after coming back from a foot injury that kept him out the entire preseason and the start of the regular season.


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