Kyle Kuzma Picks a Big Lakers Threat for NBA Bubble MVP

Kyle Kuzma, at left, of the Lakers

Getty Kyle Kuzma, at left, of the Lakers

Heading into the playoffs at the NBA restart in Orlando, which will begin next week, this seems to be an odd pick. Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma giving props—and choosing as the league’s bubble MVP—to Trail Blazers guard Damian Lillard, who could prove to be the driver of the upset-minded team that the Lakers will face in the first round.

Asked to fill out his All-Bubble ballot (yes, the league is going to award an All-Bubble team, one of the NBA’s wackier ideas since the league got going again after a four-month break as the coronavirus spread across the country), Kuzma started with Lillard.

“Dame, I think if they get into the playoffs, I would probably put him as the MVP,” Kuzma told reporters in a post-practice virtual press conference.

Lillard, who announced it was “Dame Time” when he scored 61 points in the Blazers’ Tuesday win over Dallas, is averaging 37.0 points on 9.3 assists at Disney World. He is shooting 48.5% from the field and 41.4% from the 3-point line. Portland has gone 5-2 since the NBA restart got underway.

Kuzma struggled to round out his Top 5 bubble players. NBA voters will be allowed to pick players regardless of position.

“I think Devin Booker (of the Suns) is in there,” Kuzma said, “(Indiana’s) T.J. Warren is in there. Potentially Luka (Doncic, of Dallas). That fifth one is tough, that fifth one is real tough.”

When the questioning writer, Dave McMenamin of ESPN, said he’d be voting for the Rockets’ James Harden, Kuzma unenthusiastically agreed. “I mean, yeah, I guess,” Kuzma said. “I guess. Yeah, Harden.”

No Lakers on Kyle Kuzma’s All-Bubble Ballot

Kuzma, notably, did not cast his ballot for any fellow Lakers. The team’s two superstars have been underwhelming in their play in the restart. LeBron James has averaged a lackluster 22.8 points in six games. Anthony Davis has played all seven Lakers’ game, during which the team has gone 3-4, and averaged 21.6 points on just 42.2% shooting. He had been averaging 26.7 points on 51.1% shooting before the restart.

The Lakers have not played well and there is some concern that an amped-up Lillard and the Blazers’ superior interior attack, led by center Jusuf Nurkic—who had been out all season with a broken leg—would give fits to the Lakers should Portland be able to win the final seed in the Western Conference playoffs.

The Blazers are in a good position, currently eighth, but could still be eliminated before the No. 8 and 9 seeds play a weekend play-in-game. Still, they’re the favorites to be eighth.

Pundits, including Hall of Fame forward Charles Barkley of TNT, have suggested the red-hot Lillard and his Blazers could knock off the top-seeded (but slumping) Lakers in a first-round matchup.

Maybe Lillard and Co. would be the worst-case scenario for the Lakers.

Kuzma disagreed. “No, it is not worst-case scenario,” he said. “I think that any time you can be tested early in the playoffs, it is going to help you in later round. Obviously, them getting the eighth seed, it is going to be a very tough matchup for us, he is an excellent player all-around. You can see his shot-making but his leadership and everything else. I don’t think it’s worst-case scenario because we’re war-ready, we’re ready to play anybody.”

Kyle Kuzma Set for NBA Playoff Debut

Either way, Kuzma is set to embark on a new adventure here in the third season he has been in the NBA. He will be in the postseason for the very first time—and the Lakers will be back in the playoffs for their first run since 2013, when they lost in the first round.

“I’m excited,” Kuzma said. “You know, the first two years in the league, we did not get into the playoffs. I’m really excited because the playoffs show you what you’re made of. You see the difference between the guys who love the game of basketball and who love the lifestyle. The ultracompetitive-ness of me and the rest of my teammates, it’s going to be fun to be able to go out there and play.”

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