Kyle Kuzma handles the ball against the Houston Rockets on Dec. 20, 2017.
(Bill Baptist/Getty Images)

Kuzma Erupts for 38 Points as Lakers Stop Rockets' Streak

by Joey Ramirez
Digital Reporter

Kyle Kuzma was inserted to the starting lineup to provide shooting and scoring. Mission accomplished.

The 22-year-old was volcanic in the Lakers’ 122-116 victory over Houston, hitting his first nine shots en route to a 38-point outburst — the second-highest by a Lakers rookie since the team moved to Los Angeles.

But Kuzma, supremely confident just 28 games into his NBA career, wasn’t surprised by his titanic effort.

“I scored 30 in Summer League, so…” Kuzma said, shrugging his shoulders.

Sure, Summer League was against teams filled with rookies and G League players, while this game was versus the NBA-leading Rockets.

But the fact that Houston had won 14 straight games meant little to Kuzma.

“I’ve got the same mentality every time I step on the floor,” Kuzma said. “Play my hardest and just be locked in.”

The Rockets (25-5) could not get Kuzma to unlock once he hit his first few shots. The 27th-overall pick was electric from beyond the arc, sinking seven 3-pointers on a night when he shot 12-of-17 from the field.

“You jack shots like that, it’s hard not to get hot,” Josh Hart joked with Kuzma in earshot.

Kuzma scored 24 points with six triples in the first half alone, as the Lakers (11-18) led Houston by as many as 22.

Some of his 3-pointers were clean spot-up looks. Others were with a defender right in his airspace.

Coach Luke Walton has spent much of the season preaching the importance of smart shot selection to Kuzma, but this game was a different animal.

“When he was hot he took some questionable shots, but when you’re hot you can get away with that,” Walton said.

Kuzma also mixed in some rebounding and playmaking, tallying seven boards and four assists with zero turnovers.

But his role in the starting lineup was clearly to let it fly with Brook Lopez (ankle sprain) and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (travel restriction) out.

Kuzma rewarded Walton’s faith with his hottest game since he was an elementary student back in Flint, Michigan.

“Probably like fifth or sixth grade maybe,” Kuzma said. “For real, no joke.”

Hot Brew
Facing his former team, Corey Brewer had his best game since the Rockets traded him to the Lakers midway through last season.

The 11-year veteran scored 21 points in 25 minutes by driving to the bucket for dunks and stretching it out for some uncharacteristic perimeter shooting.

He also came up with some big plays on the other end, including three steals (all of which led to the Lakers scoring) and some good one-on-one defense against MVP frontrunner James Harden, who torched the purple and gold for 51 points, including 17 free throws.

While Brewer certainly couldn’t stop Harden’s one-man show, he and Andrew Bogut made life more difficult for the NBA’s scoring leader.

“Harden obviously had a big night, but Brewer did his best to make it tough on him when he was in the game,” Walton said. “We don’t win that game without him tonight.”

Bogut, meanwhile, started at center for the first time this year. And Walton credited the 7-footer’s rim protection as one reason the Lakers were able to pull away at the end.

Both vets were on the floor when the Lakers made their key run with the game tied at 100.

There was only eight minutes left when Brewer unknotted the score with a driving layup.

Then Jordan Clarkson scored out of a pick-and-roll, and Bogut hit two free throws on the next possession.

Kuzma added a layup when Brandon Ingram pushed the ball ahead on the fast-break, and Lonzo Ball hit two more foul shots, ending a 10-0 burst that gave the Lakers the victory.

Notes
Ball, Josh Hart, Ingram, Kuzma and Bogut made up L.A.’s starting five. … The Lakers hit a season-high-tying 15 3-pointers and only had 10 turnovers. … Ball had 16 points and nine rebounds, but shot 5-of-14 and had five turnovers. … Houston had nice performances from Eric Gordon (21 points) and Trevor Ariza (18 points, 11 rebounds).

Put it on #KuzControl and let it ride.

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