Lakers Newsletter: Frank Vogel looks forward to Kyle Kuzma’s impact when healthy
Hi, this is Tania Ganguli, Lakers beat writer for the Los Angeles Times, here with your Lakers newsletter.
Wednesday night the Lakers played without Kyle Kuzma, who was held out by the team’s medical staff to allow a weeks-old ankle injury to heal properly.
He sprained his ankle two weeks ago, but played through the injury for several games.
Kuzma has had a difficult season. His role on the team has changed dramatically and he’s still working his way through determining the best path for himself. His numbers have been down — his assists, rebounds, points and field-goal percentage are all at low points for his career, as are his minutes. But he’s reminding himself that the Lakers’ improved record is what matters most.
“It’s all about just being patient,” Kuzma said. “It’s all about being patient. We’re a 20-3 team and that’s all it’s really about right now — trying to get wins and when I have opportunities or when the team needs me when the team is down, I have an opportunity to come in and hit some big shots. That’s just kind of my job to do. Other than that it’s just kind of get in where I fit in and just help the team out in any way.”
It hasn’t helped that he’s already dealt with two injuries — the first a stress reaction in his left ankle that caused him to miss the first four games of the season.
“The injuries have been a frustration point for him, understandably,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “He has high expectations for what he’s gonna mean to our team. To not be at your best, it can be frustrating. We’re just hopeful to get him fully healthy and contributing at the level that we know he’s capable of.”
Sweaters for wells
Lakers center JaVale McGee had his annual ugly sweater party last weekend, and just like last year several members of the Lakers organization attended. This year that group included LeBron James and Anthony Davis.
The event led to amusing photos of McGee and his teammates wearing ugly sweaters. It also raised money for Juglife, a foundation through which McGee helps donate wells to provide clean water to various towns in Uganda. They have done so since 2015. Last summer I spoke with McGee about those trips.
“What we had was more of a just water promotion company where we told people drink water, drink a gallon of water today,” McGee said. “We were just encouraging people to stay healthy.”
Then McGee was contacted about “the opportunity of a village in Uganda that needed water wells built because they didn’t have a natural water source.”
LeBron James has a triple-double to lead the Lakers to a 96-87 victory over Orlando, where Dwight Howard would like to put past problems behind him.
The trips there have been very meaningful for McGee.
“I mean first impressions of course you’re in the motherland so you’re like, just to be there, OK, this is where civilization started,” McGee said. “I mean it’s humbling. It makes you appreciate the things you have and makes you stop complaining about things, especially trivial things like traffic and I’m late to this or something like that. People out there don’t have running water, electricity, a bed to sleep in, shoes, they have one outfit. It’s really hard out there.”
The event also highlighted, again, the camaraderie among this Lakers team. It’s one part of why they’ve rolled through the first quarter of the season. Obviously, that’s only part of why.
Here’s what else has been going on this week.
Since last we spoke…
- Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has made a case for himself to remain a starter even as Avery Bradley gets further down the road to his return. My colleague Broderick Turner took a look at how he’s been playing.
- Kelli Tennant, a former Spectrum SportsNet reporter, dropped her sexual assault lawsuit against former Lakers coach Luke Walton. Walton’s attorney said in a statement that the suit was dropped permanently and voluntarily, and the new Sacramento Kings coach expressed a desire to move on in a statement released by the team. Tennant’s attorneys could not be reached for comment.
- The Lakers beat up the Portland Trail Blazers on the road, and Anthony Davis scored 39 points in three quarters.
- The next night, Davis scored 50 points in a home win over the Timberwolves. And that came without a single three-pointer.
- Our columnist Dylan Hernandez was suspicious of the Lakers on Dec. 1 when they lost to the Dallas Mavericks. They haven’t lost since and a week later, Hernandez was more optimistic.
- With the Lakers’ two “quarterbacks” limited (James had four fouls in the first half) or out (Rajon Rondo was injured) against the Timberwolves, Alex Caruso saw an opportunity for himself to contribute in a different way than he has been. Our Thuc Nhi Nguyen examines his night.
- For his superlative week, Davis was selected the Western Conference’s player of the week. It’s the second time he’s earned the award this season.
- Frank Vogel joked last night: “Shocking, Avery Bradley comes back and we hold a team under 90 points.” When I relayed that comment to Bradley, he smiled bashfully and lowered his head. That was pretty much his reaction, too, when Vogel announced “the Avery Challenge” during a team meeting last month. Here’s more on the Avery Challenge, and why the Lakers took to it.
- Dwight Howard says he found peace this summer about his time in Orlando. He let go of his bitterness and said he hopes Magic fans can too as the Lakers picked up their 12th consecutive road win.
- Jared Dudley had a nice game on Wednesday night, but he got ejected in the fourth quarter. His teammates didn’t mind that he was sticking up for Dwight Howard when it happened.
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