(Photo By: Cameron Browne/Getty Images)
Lakers vs. Blazers: 3 Things to Know (12/23/17)
Here is what you need to know before the Lakers return home to take on the Portland Trail Blazers.
1) Kuz is on a historic pace
Not since Jerry West in 1961 had a rookie Laker scored 25-plus points in three straight games. But a red-hot Kyle Kuzma has done just that, putting up 25, 38 and 27 this past week.
The 22-year-old’s scorching streak has been made all the more impressive by the fact that he rose to the occasion against the NBA’s best teams, facing Golden State twice and Houston during this surge.
Kuzma has been electric from deep over the past three outings, hitting 14-of-22 on 3-pointers (63.6 percent), while still getting to the cup for a 10-of-13 mark on layups.
The 27th-overall pick is now averaging 20.3 points as a starter and 17.7 as a whole, placing him a few decimal points ahead of Donovan Mitchell for the league lead in rookie scoring.
Kyle Kuzma led the Lakers tonight with a team-high 27 points and 14 rebounds against Golden State. pic.twitter.com/TqUJhuNlx0— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) December 23, 2017
2) Lonzo is making defenses pay from deep
For the first quarter of Lonzo Ball’s rookie season, defenses dared him to shoot, and for good reason. The Chino Hills native had hit just 25.7 percent of his 3-point attempts through November, hovering at or around last place in the NBA for most of the season.
While Ball — who ranks among the top 10 in assists, grabs more rebounds than almost everyone at his position and plays good defense — contributed in other ways, his shooting wasn’t giving much to his team.
But that has flipped over the last five games, in which he has hit 16-of-34 from downtown (47.1 percent) and made defenses have to think about going under screens and generally giving him room to shoot.
He was particularly accurate against the Warriors on Friday, canning 5-of-6 3-pointers on his way to 24 points — his second-highest scoring display yet.
The next handful of games will tell if this is a hot streak for Lonzo or a sign that he has truly become more comfortable with his shot, as he was hitting 41.2 percent of 3’s at UCLA.
3) The Blazers come to L.A. without their leader
Damian Lillard always brings his best against the Lakers, as shown by his career 25.9 points per game versus the purple and gold.
But Lillard, the NBA’s eighth-leading scorer, is out for this game, leaving the Blazers looking for offense elsewhere.
The most likely outcome is even more shots for C.J. McCollum, who has hit the league’s second-most jumpers. However, McCollum doesn’t have the type of deadly driving that Lillard — the NBA’s most productive pick-and-roll handler — does.
Also expect to see more of Jusuf Nurkic, who is a dangerous roll man, wields a reliable hook shot in the post and scored 28 points in his last game against the Lakers.
Lakers: Brook Lopez (right ankle sprain) is out.
Blazers: Damian Lillard (right hamstring strain) is out.
Tip-Off: 6:30 p.m. PT
TV: Spectrum SportsNet and Spectrum Deportes
Radio: 710 ESPN and 1330 KWKW
Location: Staples Center — Los Angeles, California