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LeBron James sees growth in Kyle Kuzma, who again helps Lakers win

Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma pulls up for a shot over Pacers forward Domantas Sabonis.
Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma shoots between Indiana Pacers guard Jeremy Lamb (26) and Domantas Sabonis (11) during the second half of Friday’s game in Los Angeles.
(Marcio Jose Sanchez / Associated Press)

The moment Friday night called for someone to fill a big void for the Lakers, and Kyle Kuzma proved again he was more than ready to shine when the time came.

Starters Anthony Davis (strained right calf) and Marc Gasol (health and safety protocols) were out, leaving the Lakers missing two important pieces. Key reserve Alex Caruso went out after being evaluated for a concussion at halftime. On Saturday, the Lakers said Caruso was diagnosed with a mild concussion and has been put in the NBA’s concussion protocol.

But the Lakers had Kuzma at the ready to fill some big shoes.

His team-high 24 points helped trigger the Lakers toward a 105-100 win over the Indiana Pacers at Staples Center. His season-high-tying 13 rebounds helped the Lakers start the second half of the season the right way.

Kuzma’s 15 points in the fourth quarter were pivotal in helping the Lakers overcome an 11-point deficit.

“I’m just playing my game, really,” Kuzma said on Zoom after the game. “Just taking what’s given to me. Not trying to force anything. Not trying to just be a bench scorer or trying to put the ball in the hole every possession. But when I’m open, I’m shooting it. I’m trying to make a play and just playing off of my teammates the best way I can. So, that’s just where I’m at.”

Highlights from the Lakers’ 105-100 victory over the Indiana Pacers at Staples Center on Friday night.

There was a stretch in which Kuzma scored on three consecutive possessions for the Lakers, two of them off assists from LeBron James.

Kuzma’s leaner tied the score at 88. His back-to-back three-pointers gave the Lakers a lead, 94-90, that they never relinquished.

“Well, I mean tonight, he had it going,” James said on a videoconference. “And we continued to find the hot hand. I wanted to continue to give him the ball and he continued to make plays. And that’s the growth.

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“The growth of him is knowing that some games it’s going to be different. It’s not always going to be high-scoring nights. But he’s still going to be able to make an impact, especially on the glass and his energy and his effort. But we need him to make shots. We need him to make shots, especially in the absence of AD and tonight was an example of that.”

One play stood out in particular in the fourth quarter, when James was able to find Kuzma in the corner.

James had the basketball on the left wing with Pacers defenders Justin Holiday and Domantas Sabonis on him. Kuzma stood in the corner and raised his hand to let James know he was open.

James then whipped a pass across the court over the over the outstretched hand of T.J. McConnell. Kuzma caught the pass, sized up the basket and knocked down a three-pointer.

“Yeah, we were looking at each other the entire possession,” Kuzma said about his connection with James. “I was pretty much [eyeing] him to pass me the ball. He found me and I made the shot.”

Kuzma now has 10 double-doubles on the season, perhaps none as important as this one with Davis and Gasol out.

“Our team is predicated on LeBron and then AD and then everybody else kind of fit in where they get in,” Kuzma said. “When you take a massive usage player like that, somebody that the offense is tailor-made to be around, we’ve been playing that way for a year and a half.

“So, for us to kind of think of another way to play offensively on the fly, it’s a little challenging. But I think having Dennis [Schroder] back, obviously another ballhandler, another scorer, and everybody just playing really, really hard and playing within themselves has really helped us out.”


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