The Lakers huddle up during their game against the Utah Jazz on April 7, 2019.
(Ryan Young/Los Angeles Lakers)

Lakers Snap Utah's Streak Behind KCP's 32 Points, Clutch Plays

by Joey Ramirez
Digital Reporter

The Lakers may not be playoff-bound, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t looking to make an impact on the postseason.

Now they’ve simply turned their attention to hurting their opponents’ seeding. After beating the LA Clippers on Friday, they came from behind to knock off the Utah Jazz on Sunday, 113-109.

“I feel like we’re playing out there with a little bit of jealousy,” JaVale McGee said. “We’re kind of mad that [they’re] in the playoffs and we’re not. So we’re gonna mess up [their] bracket for the hell of it.”

Whatever the motivation may be, the results are there. The Lakers have won six of their last nine games, and took down a Utah team playing the best basketball in the NBA.

The Jazz (49-30) had won seven straight, and 12 of their last 13, before falling to the Lakers (36-44) in a battle of shorthanded squads.

While L.A. played without the likes of LeBron James, Kyle Kuzma and Brandon Ingram, Utah didn’t have the services of Ricky Rubio, Derrick Favors and Kyle Korver.

With so many injuries, the spotlight was open for players who have spent most of the season in the G League.

Alex Caruso continued his impressive run with an 18-point, 11-assist double-double. Johnathan Williams added 14 points and eight rebounds. And recent call-up Jemerrio Jones hustled his way to 16 rebounds in his first career start.

“He’s a savage,” McGee said of Jones. “He’s a rebounding fool. He can go out there and get that any night. He works extremely hard, especially on defense. He reminds me of Tony Allen, except he rebounds better.”

Yet when the game was on the line, the Lakers turned to a player who has spent the entire year up in the NBA. Kentavious Caldwell-Pope ignited for 32 points — including 18 in the fourth quarter on 7-of-8 shooting.

“We’re just playing free,” Caldwell-Pope said. “Me and Caruso are always on the same team in practice. We play hard [with] great effort and not giving up. We want to carry it over to the game, and we’re showing it out there.”

KCP and Caruso were instrumental to the Lakers’ success down low, as they outscored Utah in the paint, 64-48, despite the presence of Defensive Player of the Year candidate Rudy Gobert.

While Gobert’s 7-foot-9 wingspan may make him one of the most fearsome rim protectors in the league, the Lakers showed no hesitance going right at him.

KCP challenged the behemoth at the rim and from mid-range. When Gobert strayed too close, he and Caruso would fire a pass to McGee — who had 22 points — including a game-sealing alley-oop in the final minute.

“Our season didn’t turn out how we wanted it to turn out, unfortunately,” Caldwell-Pope said. “But why not just wreck some other [teams’ seasons]? Come on, chill with us at home.”

The Lakers shot 51.7 percent from the field and had possession advantages in turnovers forced (16-11) and offensive rebounds (16-10). … Mike Muscala (16 points, four 3-pointers) had his best game as a Laker. … Gobert led the Jazz with 21 points and 10 rebounds, while fellow star Donovan Mitchell shot just 5-of-17 from the field.

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