So what was the secret for Kuzma, who hadn’t been faring the best with both Anthony Davis and LeBron James on the sideline?
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The answer is simple.
“I don’t know, I just told myself I gotta stop being a B-word,” Kuzma said in his postgame press conference. “That’s the biggest thing. Taking on that challenge and trying to be an all-around dog. It’s as simple as that. I’m getting more and more confidence guarding those point guard, shooting guards.”
Kuzma was the Lakers’ best player against the Kings, logging a team-best plus-29 and playing some stellar defense to go with his offensive output.
“I wasn’t forcing anything. I wasn’t trying to overdo it from an offensive standpoint with scoring,” Kuzma said. “I was just letting the game come to me. I was trying to drive in the paint and get a teammate open. When it wasn’t there, I found myself open and took advantage of it. The game is slowing down for me.”
Kuzma: Best Game With Anthony Davis, LeBron James Out
Every win matters in the highly competitive Western Conference and the Lakers are still clinging to fourth-place thanks to the victory, although both Denver and Portland are hot on their heels.
The Lakers are trying to stay afloat with both Davis and James nursing injuries. Davis is expected back sooner than James, who has a high-ankle sprain, but the Lakers will need some more big performances from Kuzma and Co. to keep trending in the right direction with their superstars sidelined. After facing the Clippers on Sunday at Staples Center, the Lakers depart for the five-game swing against Eastern Conference foes.
“This was probably our best game with all those guys out, from the standpoint of playing the right way and doing it for 48 minutes,” Kuzma said. after Friday’s win “Defensively, holding a team under 100 is what you want to do every time out. And we made shots. Those were the factors.”
Kuzma Previously Struggled With Reduced Role
There was a lot of pressure on Kuzma to be the Lakers’ third-best player last season, which he struggled with, especially after transitioning to the bench. However, Kuzma has matured and found his game, doing the little things to help the Lakers win games.
“It’s big for this team. I’m trying to be a star in my role,” Kuzma said in February. “Just trying to help this team win. Coming off the bench or starting, I’m just out there playing basketball — playing free with a sense of joy, trying to get wins.”
Kuzma is averaging 12.8 points and 6.8 rebounds per game, but head coach Frank Vogel said his greatest contribution has been his attitude.
“He’s a winning player. I think we saw that in the championship run last year,” Vogel said. “He’s really making the effort to play team-first basketball.”
The Lakers have a chance to win their fourth game in five tries as they take on the Clippers on Sunday night.