Hart, Svi and Mo Lead Lakers to W in Vegas Opener

by Mike Trudell
Lakers Reporter

The Las Vegas Summer League typically feels like Los Angeles East, and Saturday evening’s 2018 opener was no different.

Instead of Lonzo Ball and Kyle Kuzma, though, it was Josh Hart leading this year’s version of Lakers, and the 30th pick in the 2017 Draft went off for 24 points to lead L.A. to a 96-79 victory over Philadelphia.

Just before the tip, Hart ran over to the courtside seats next to the scorer’s table, where he shook hands with Ball, Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, JaVale McGee, Luke Walton and Rob Pelinka, all in attendance for the occasion.

There was a bit more buzz last season when No. 2 overall pick Ball debuted, and he and Kuzma certainly didn’t disappoint in leading the team all the way to the title and a pair of MVP (tournament for Ball, final game for Kuzma) awards. But Saturday night’s atmosphere wasn’t too far behind.

The Lakers looked like a different team from the one that lost all three of its games last week in the California Classic, featuring Hart, No. 25 pick Moe Wagner, Svi Mykhailiuk (47) and Issac Bonga (39), who was acquired in a trade with Philadelphia. That’s two Germans and a Ukrainian, joining Croatia’s Ivica Zubac on a suddenly very international roster.

Riding the Purple and Gold energy in the building, L.A. was off and running from the jump, quickly taking an 11-4 lead as Mykhailiuk drained a pair of jumpers, and Hart went for five straight points of his own.

“The guys really just had tremendous focus,” said coach Miles Simon. “Yesterday at practice, shootaround today and going into the game, the attention to detail they had for the scouting report, knowing personnel, taking away the things the Sixers wanted to run, the focus was really off the charts.”

Hart not only scored rather easily, drilling 4 of 8 threes and 9 of 15 field goals overall, but led the way defensively. He held Sixers wing Furkan Korkmaz to just four points on 1 of 9 field goals (0 for 7 threes) one night after Korkmaz went off for 40 points and eight triples against Boston.

“I think Josh found a great balance between passing, scoring, he obviously hit some big shots for us,” said Simon. “But for me Josh Hart, and for the organization, we want him to be a leader in this setting, and today he set the tone defensively.”

Philly responded to L.A.’s hot start with a 7-0 run to take a momentary lead at 12-11, but L.A. finished the quarter up 20-19 and would never relinquish the margin again. In the second half, the lead ballooned to as many as 23, with Philly struggling to score as they shot only 38.3 percent and hit only 3 of 29 from three.

“The energy to start the game, that was the biggest thing,” said Hart. “The first quarter it was still close, but the energy was there, and we built off that.”

In the third quarter, Hart converted a tough and-1 at the rim – which prompted Kuzma, Ball, McGee and KCP to stand up and flex – and Svi hit his 3rd triple, after which Walton continued to smile for a good 20 seconds.

If Hart was L.A.’s best offensive player on the evening, Mykhailiuk wasn’t far behind, drilling four threes and 6 of 11 shots overall towards 17 points, not to mention a team-high nine rebounds.

“Svi just has a smooth game,” said Simon. “He’s known as a shooter, but he can do more than that. He’s a good defender, he’s very smart, he has a high basketball IQ, he moves well without the basketball. The three-point shooting is so fluid. He can do it off the move, off the bounce. He shoots it with range. Stand still … he has more versatility to his game than people probably give him credit for.”

Wagner was effective as well, scoring 16 points plus eight boards with three steals and two blocks. He served as the emotional leader, lifting both arms after a nasty one-handed transition dunk he earned himself off a steal that had Ball, Kuzma and Co. on their feet.

The 18-year-old Bonga struggled with L.A. throwing him right into the fire in a playmaking role, turning the ball over seven times in his 13 minutes, but the 6’9’’ point guard did flash the talent that made the Lakers excited to get him, finishing his stint with a pretty layup with English off the glass after beating a Sixers defender. Simon was impressed with the effort, considering Bonga just joined the team yesterday in Vegas and only had about 20 minutes of practice time.

“The first thing that stands out is his overall size,” said Simon. “You can tell defensively he can be very versatile, and then the fact that he can handle the ball like a point guard, he has a chance to really be a good player.”

L.A. is back in action on Sunday vs. Chicago, and while it’s yet to be determined how many games Hart will play in Vegas, Simon said he expects him to be back in the starting lineup against the Bulls.

“It’s a little different from last year,” Hart said. “I know a little bit more. My biggest thing is just to go out there and help those guys. Kinda show everyone else, and even myself, what I’ve been working on this offseason. At the end of the day, the biggest thing is about winning.”

Towards that end, so far, so good for Hart and the Lakers.

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