(Photo By: Ty Nowell/Los Angeles Lakers)
3 Things to Know: Lakers vs. Spurs (12/5/18)
Here is what you need to know before the Lakers take their three-game winning streak into a matchup with the San Antonio Spurs.
1) Kuzma is stepping up his game
Since he stepped on the court in purple and gold, Kyle Kuzma’s scoring prowess has been obvious.
Last season he finished in a three-way tie for the Lakers’ scoring leader. This year he’s second, behind only LeBron James (a.k.a. the greatest player in the world).
But Kuzma is far from finished improving his game. In particular, his defense and passing have been reaching new heights over recent weeks.
Kuzma has taken his leap on the defensive side largely because of his new assignment. Rather than bodying bigs down low, he has spent more time successfully navigating screens and hustling after perimeter players.
On the other side, Kuzma has been playmaking in transition and making the extra pass, tallying 19 assists in his last five games after managing just one in his previous five.
After giving up his own shot to feed Tyson Chandler for a dunk, Kyle Kuzma double-checked that Luke Walton noticed.— Joey Ramirez (@JoeyARamirez) December 4, 2018
“Yeah, I pointed at him. He’s always talking about me not passing the ball, so I had to make sure he saw that one.”
: https://t.co/eXUX2VWiHU pic.twitter.com/g1lTPY7din
2) Tyson’s presence is paying dividends for the defense
Prior to Tyson Chandler’s signing in early November, the Lakers used Kuzma as their de facto backup center. The small-ball lineups didn’t find much success, as L.A. placing just 23rd in defensive rating (111.5).
But since Chandler joined the crew, the Lakers have taken off, ranking third in defensive rating (101.7) with him in the mix.
The combination of Chandler and starting center JaVale McGee has provided the Lakers with arguably the best rim protection in the NBA. And having two true centers has allowed players like Kuzma to avoid having to play up a position.
Knowing that there is a 7-footer securing the paint at all times also allows defenders to play more aggressively, which Kuzma, Lonzo Ball, Josh Hart and Brandon Ingram have embraced to much success.
Josh Hart in defensive playmaker mode.— Joey Ramirez (@JoeyARamirez) November 30, 2018
Three steals, leading to a fast-break bucket on all of them. pic.twitter.com/iUz46XULaE
3) San Antonio’s defense is trending the opposite way
The Spurs have beaten the Lakers twice this season (both pre-Chandler arrival), but their defense has taken a nosedive over recent games.
They currently rank second-to-last in the NBA in defensive rating (113.3), having allowed a league-high 130.3 points over their last four games. Those contests haven’t been pretty, with San Antonio losing three by 30-plus points — including at Utah yesterday on the first leg of a back-to-back.
While momentum and scheduling is squarely in the Lakers’ corner, they should know better than to assume that the Spurs will continue their downturn.
They still boast a pair of all-stars, DeMar DeRozan and LaMarcus Aldridge, and are a top-10 offensive team despite operating on a steady diet of post-ups and mid-range shots.
Lakers: Rajon Rondo (right hand surgery) is out. Isaac Bonga, Alex Caruso and Johnathan Williams are on G League assignment.
Spurs: Pau Gasol (left foot soreness) and Dejounte Murray (right ACL tear) are out. Lonnie Walker IV, Drew Eubanks and Ben Moore are on G League assignment.
Tip-Off: 7:30 p.m. PT
TV: Spectrum SportsNet in L.A. ESPN nationally
Radio: 710 ESPN and 1330 KWKW
Unis: Purple Statement
Location: STAPLES Center — Los Angeles, California