Lakers Finding Scoring Ahead of First Road Trip
Luke Walton remembers being 23 years old and standing outside of the team plane in a t-shirt and jeans, freezing in the 20-below Minnesota temperature.
Such was life as an NBA rookie in 2003. These days, it’s a lot different.
Walton — who grew up in San Diego and went to college at Arizona — was unprepared for the cold at the time, but had to fulfill his duty to unload the plane alongside fellow rookie Brian Cook and the Lakers’ equipment manager.
The rookies on Walton’s current squad have fewer such responsibilities to worry about as the Lakers prepare for their four-game road trip that begins on Tuesday.
Instead, their focus is locked onto the court.
For Kyle Kuzma, this trip holds significance considering his mom, Karri, will see him play in the regular season for the first time when the Lakers face Milwaukee on Saturday.
If that game is anything like his first 10 in the NBA, Kuzma’s mom should be happy with what she sees.
Recently inserted into the starting lineup, Kuzma ranks third in the entire NBA in two-point percentage (68.5), thanks to his superb driving and cutting.
Among fellow rookies, the 27th-overall pick is first in field goal percentage (56.3), third in scoring (15.4) and fifth in rebounds (6.4).
But he is more concerned with measuring himself against the league’s best than other first-years.
“My focus is, one, winning,” Kuzma said at Monday’s practice. “And, two, I try to focus on all the top players in the league, because that’s where I want to be. I don’t feel like rookies are sticking points for me to try to battle with.
“I look at guys like (Giannis) Antetokoumpo and LeBron (James) — eventually that’s where I want to be.”
This will also be a big first trip for Lonzo Ball, who said that this past Summer League was the first time he has been away from Southern California for more than a week.
Ball has struggled with his shot this season, hitting just 29.9 percent from the field, but has been a key cog in the Lakers’ pace-pushing offense.
In fact, after a rough start to the season offensively, the Lakers have been red-hot over their last four games.
During that stretch, L.A. is averaging 113.5 points on the league’s second-best field goal percentage (50.4).
The team has attributed this success to cranking up the speed of its offense, which, of course, all starts with the point guard, Ball.
“The chemistry’s building,” Ball said. “We’re playing a lot faster, and in half court we’re cutting a lot harder. Guys are knowing where people are out now. It’s getting a lot easier.”
Of course, it helps that a one-man offense like Brook Lopez has found his stride.
In his last three games, Lopez is the NBA’s sixth-highest scorer, averaging 27.3 points while dominating defenses with both his inside and outside games.
“The whole preseason he was really bad with a back injury and little nicks and bruises,” Kuzma said. “You can tell he’s getting back to the Nets version of Brook Lopez. I thought he lost his powers for a second, but he looks normal.”
Meanwhile, Ball attributed the success to Lopez’s change in TV viewing habits.
“I told you,” Ball said. “It’s the Disney Channel.”