Healthy Horton-Tucker Finally Gives Lakers Functional Starting Five

Talen Horton-Tucker of the Lakers, with the ball

Getty Talen Horton-Tucker of the Lakers, with the ball

Who needs LeBron James? Maybe all the Lakers really needed was a healthy Talen Horton-Tucker.

Horton-Tucker returned to action on Sunday against San Antonio for the first time this NBA season, having been recovering from surgery on his thumb, which he injured in October, and the Lakers wasted very little time putting him to good use.

Coach Frank Vogel pushed Horton-Tucker into the starting five in place of struggling Kent Bazemore who, after starting the first 13 games of the season, did not get off the bench at all against the Spurs. Horton-Tucker scored 17 points, went 7-for-14 shooting (only 1-for-5 from the 3-point line, however) and grabbed four rebounds.

He also was on the floor during critical stretches of what wound up being a tight, 114-106 game, one that was not safely decided until the final minute. Horton-Tucker played 9:17 of the final period, including the last 2:51, a period during which Lakers coach Frank Vogel put the ball into his hands as the point guard, rather than Russell Westbrook’s hands.

In all, Horton-Tucker was a plus-14 on the afternoon. Davis was unquestionably the star, with 34 points and 15 rebounds, but the Lakers probably don’t win the game without Horton-Tucker.

“It was good, you know, another ballhandler, not so much pressure on Russ and Rondo,” Davis told Spectrum SportsNet after the game. “Come in, 17 points, big rebounds, big plays, big shots, defensively. We missed him. He is a big part of our team. He was able to come in and help us get this win.”


Lakers Overhauled Starting 5 vs. Spurs

THT’s return was part of a thorough overhaul of the Lakers’ starting five, as he was joined by Carmelo Anthony in the first unit. Anthony, who entered the game shooting 46.6% from the 3-point line this season, had been the sixth man throughout the first 13 games. He scored 15 points on 5-for-7 shooting, making 2-for-3 from the 3-point line.

Anthony started in the power forward spot, with the Lakers playing Anthony Davis at center for just the third time this season. That allowed Vogel to keep another struggling starter, DeAndre Jordan, on the bench.

Before we get too ebullient about the win, we should keep in mind some context—San Antonio is just 4-9 on the season and was playing without one of its best players, center Jakob Poeltl, who was out because of the NBA’s health and safety protocols. Despite that, the Lakers still had a nail-biter down the stretch, having let the Spurs close a 13-point fourth-quarter Lakers lead down to two points.

In other words, it wasn’t always pretty. And yeah, the Lakers could stand to have LeBron James back.


Will Vogel Stick With Small Lineups?

As far as James goes, Vogel said before the game that he remains day-to-day, so it is still a mystery as to whether he will suit up for Monday’s outing against the Bulls.

It will be interesting, going forward, to see how Vogel processes what he’s seen from his players so far. The Lakers have done well using small lineups, but that’s happened only against poor teams—the other two times Vogel tried to go small were against the Rockets, who are 1-11. Will he start using that look more consistently?

Vogel did say it was time to give Anthony a look in the starting lineup, and that could be something he goes back to. He did say that Anthony will return to the bench for sure when James returns. But the bigger issue is that, for some reason, Vogel seems to favor big lineups.

And what about Horton-Tucker? Might he be in the starting five to stay? Vogel did not answer directly on that, either. But he did say that, no matter what, THT will, “be a big part,” of whatever’s next for the Lakers.

 

 


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