Kuzma Drops 31 Points as Lakers Fall in Christmas Clash with Wolves
It may have been Christmas night, but the Lakers looked ready for Halloween with their skeleton crew, as three of their starting five missed the game due to injury.
Without Lonzo Ball, Brandon Ingram and Brook Lopez, the purple and gold turned to cobbled-together lineups with minimal playing time together.
For most of the night those experiments worked, as rookie Kyle Kuzma continued his brilliant play with 31 points. However, Minnesota rolled ahead in the fourth quarter, capturing the game, 121-104.
The loss stung especially for Kuzma, who scored the most points by a rookie on Christmas Day since LeBron James dropped 34 in 2003.
But Kuzma said that fact did “not really” matter to him, considering that he treated the Christmas game like any other.
Nonetheless, it was an impressive performance by a 22-year-old, who sunk six 3-pointers (many of which came with a hand in his face) and constantly drew fouls toward nine points at the free throw line.
With two of the Lakers’ top playmakers (Ball and Ingram) sidelined, Kuzma also provided a sample of playmaking with his four assists.
“He’s a natural scorer,” Julius Randle said. “He does a great job of opening it up for everyone else with his scoring ability.”
Kuzma sat just seven minutes, logging at least 40 minutes of playing time for the fourth time in five games.
But with that workload has come success. In that five-game span, the NBA Draft’s 27th-overall pick has averaged 27.8 points.
And Coach Luke Walton has been particularly pleased with how Kuzma has been able to score within the flow of the offense, rather than depend on the team calling plays for him.
“For a rookie to kinda continue to play at the level that he’s playing at against very good players, very good teams (and) playing big minutes is impressive,” Walton said.
Helluva half for Kyle Kuzma. Gets a vet twice on this sequence:— Joey Ramirez (@JoeyARamirez) December 26, 2017
Gibson reaches, so Kuz rips through, drives baseline and finishes with the tough lefty reverse.
Kuz then bites on the pump-fake on the other end but recovers for a swat. pic.twitter.com/PTlnehEUXJ
Unfortunately for the Lakers (11-21), Kuzma was not on the floor for the majority of Minnesota’s biggest run of the night.
The fourth quarter began well, as layups by Corey Brewer and Randle gave the Lakers a one-point lead. But the Timberwolves (21-13) responded with fury.
The visitors embarked on a 16-1 run. While Karl-Anthony Towns and Jamal Crawford keyed that burst with eight points apiece, the Lakers missed four straight shots and committed a pair of turnovers.
It was the finishing blow on a defenseless night for the Lakers, who allowed Minnesota to shoot a season-high 58.3 percent from the field, including a 29-of-35 mark inside the paint.
Kuz drops 31 points but the Lakers lose to Minnesota, 119-104. pic.twitter.com/OQCQvtL68t— Los Angeles Lakers (@Lakers) December 26, 2017
Jordan Clarkson had 17 points, seven assists and four steals, but shot just 8-of-24. … Julius Randle (16 points, seven rebounds in 19 minutes) and Josh Hart (12 points, six rebounds) had nice games for L.A. … The Wolves were led by Taj Gibson (23 points, 11-of-13), Jimmy Butler (23 points, eight assists) and Towns (21 points, 10 rebounds). … A crowd of 18,997 sold out Staples Center.