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Kyle Kuzma finds his productive state: Takeaways from Lakers’ win over Clippers

Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma works to the basket against Clippers guard Rayjon Tucker.
Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma works to the basket against Clippers guard Rayjon Tucker during the fourth quarter of the Lakers’ 131-106 preseason win Sunday at Staples Center.
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Though Kyle Kuzma and Talen Horton-Tucker have started both exhibition games for the Lakers and have both been impressive, Kuzma is the only one of the two to have a realistic chance at starting.

And so, after the Lakers defeated the Clippers 131-106 Sunday night at Staples Center, here are five observations, starting with Kuzma’s bid to start:

1. It was easy to see how relaxed Kuzma was on the court. He mostly let the offense come to him and was not in a rush. He had 25 points, six rebounds and four assists. He was eight for 14 from the field and four for seven from three-point range. When Kuzma did try to do too much, it led to his four turnovers. But when he slashed and cut to the basket, Kuzma got passes from center Marc Gasol for easy baskets. Kuzma played 40 minutes, the second-most behind Horton-Tucker (41).

LeBron James and Anthony Davis haven’t seen any playing time in the preseason, but Lakers coach Frank Vogel says his star duo will soon be ready.

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2. Another game and another double-double from Montrezl Harrell. Sunday night, Harrell had 19 points and 11 rebounds. This time it was in a reserve role, the same spot that earned him the NBA’s sixth man of the year award winner for the 2019-20 season playing for the Clippers. He started in the first exhibition game on Friday night and produced 13 points and 12 rebounds.

3. The Lakers were not a very good three-point shooting team last season, and that was the case again in the first exhibition game when they shot 31.8% from distance. But in the second exhibition game Sunday night, the Lakers shot lights-out. They made an unreal 72% of their three-pointers. So, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was asked, what gives here? “I didn’t even look at that,” Caldwell-Pope said on a postgame videoconference. So which team is it? “We can be at 72%,” Caldwell-Pope said after he made two of his three three-pointers. “We have them type of shooters here in L.A. We can be there every night if we wanted to. It’s all about just being confident when the guys have the ball in their hands and being able to shoot the ball. But I think we can at least stay 45-50% from three — just from the players we have and the shooters we have.”

4. After the Lakers won the NBA championship on Oct. 11 and returned to practice on Dec. 6, Caldwell-Pope said, “I think I got in the gym, maybe once, to shoot and that was the only time I was in the gym with a basketball.” He said he spent most of his down time lifting weights to get his body right and ready for the season. But in his first game on Sunday, Caldwell-Pope looked sharp. He was five for eight from the field and four for five from the free-throw line. He has been working on his stroke before and after every practice. “I’m shooting before practice,” he said. “Well, actually I get a little workout in shooting and then we do practice and I shoot after practice a little bit. I just try to stay in a rhythm shooting, just get that muscle memory back, even though I haven’t been sitting out long…But keep that muscle memory and just keep shooting the ball.”

5. Quinn Cook took advantage of his playing time by scoring 14 points on five-for-10 shooting, four for five from three-point range.


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