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Lakers’ Kentavious Caldwell-Pope pushed through dark times, now flourishes as starter

Lakers guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (1) works with the ball during a game Nov. 22 against the Thunder.
Lakers guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (1) works with the ball during a game Nov. 22 against the Thunder.
(Sue Ogroki / Associated Press)

The boos from Lakers fans at Staples Center once rained down on Kentavious Caldwell-Pope whenever he missed a shot or a defensive assignment.

But his teammates stood by his side during those dark times, encouraging the 6-5 guard to stay the course.

When he became the starting guard after Avery Bradley went down with a right leg injury, Caldwell-Pope stepped into that void and his game has flourished since.

He started for the 12th time this season, finishing with 14 points on five-for-eight shooting and two-for-four on three-pointers in the Lakers’ 121-96 win over the Jazz

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After the Lakers had won back-to-back games at Denver on Tuesday night and at Utah on Wednesday night, Caldwell-Pope credited his teammates for sticking with him during his down periods.

“I’ve got real brothers in the locker room,” Caldwell-Pope said. “They helped me get through it. Even though it was a lot on myself, they helped me get through it. I have a bunch of guys who have been through that, especially that No. 1 guy has been through that — LeBron (James) has been through criticism his whole career. So he talked to me a little bit. ‘There’s nothing to worry about. Just play.’ ”

James never wavered in his faith in Caldwell-Pope.

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As a reserve in 10 games, Caldwell-Pope was playing just 19.4 minutes per game and averaging just 5.0 points on 35% shooting, an awful 20% on three-pointers.

“If one of our brothers is going through a difficult time, we pick him up,” James said. “And we let him know we’re right there in the foxhole with him, and that’s just what we were telling KCP early on when he was struggling with his shot or struggling with his play. ‘Listen, we’re right here with you. We’re in the foxhole with you and your time will come. Just continue to put in the work and continue to trust your habits.’ Obviously those rumblings have quieted down quite a bit.”

Caldwell-Pope’s improved play is why his critics have gone silent.

In his dozen starts, his minutes per game have increased to 27.3.

Landry Shamet and Rodney McGruder are traveling with the Clippers on their six-game road trip with the intent of getting back on the court at some point.

He’s averaging 10.6 points, making 52.5% of his shots and 47.7% of his three-pointers as a starter.

He had eight points in the third quarter against the Jazz, six of them on back-door cuts for layups.

“When I was in the second unit, it just took me time to find my rhythm just playing with a lot of new guys,” Caldwell-Pope said. “But once I got in the starting lineup, it kind of just opened up a little bit. Most of the time I’m wide open because of LJ and AD (Anthony Davis). I just got to be ready to knock down shots. Once I was getting easy ones, free throw, a layup, whatever, it kind of opened up my rhythm for me.”

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By working on his game and not giving in to the tough times he was experiencing, Lakers coach Frank Vogel said Caldwell-Pope “earned the job more than me giving it to him.”

“We were talking about it last night. I don’t know if I’ve seen him play as well as he’s playing,” Vogel said. “I know he had some good years in Detroit. But it’s really not about his offense. He’s going out and bringing great energy and defensive proficiency on that end of the floor. It’s really allowed us to continue to win basketball games with Avery out. I’m really happy for him. He was getting some criticism early in the season. He’s responded in a big time way. He’s been a vital part of our recent winning.”

UP NEXT

AT PORTLAND

When: 7:30 p.m.

On air: TV -- Spectrum SportsNet, ESPN; Radio 710, 1330

Update: The Trail Blazers signed once-exiled Carmelo Anthony two weeks ago and he has averaged 16.9 points and 5.9 rebounds per game. Anthony was named the Western Conference’s player of the week on Monday for his performance last week.


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