Kuzma, Lakers showing signs of growth
NBA.com Global on Dec 22, 2017 05:18 AM
ANAHEIM, CA - SEPTEMBER 30: Kyle Kuzma #0 of the Los Angeles Lakers shoots the ball against the Minnesota Timberwolves during a preseason game on September 30, 2017 at Honda Center in Anaheim, California. (Photo by David Sherman/NBAE via Getty Images)
NBA.com staff report
Calm and collected is not the way you'd expect the key figures of a young Los Angeles Lakers team to be in the closing moments of a win against the best team in the league. Just don't tell Kyle Kuzma or any of the other Lakers that they are not supposed to be that way with the game on the line. Because it's that sort of confidence under pressure that led to Kozma's career-high 38 points and the Lakers snapping the Houston Rockets' win streak at 14 games Wednesday night (Thursday, PHL time) at Toyota Center.
Luke Walton's team is in the midst of one of the most brutal stretches of their early season, having seen Cleveland, Golden State, the Rockets, the Warriors again (Friday) and Portland (Saturday) in the lead up to their Christmas Day matchup against the Minnesota Timberwolves. They are competing against the best, showing some signs of real growth and even facing down a season-long demon late to secure the win over the Rockets, as Tania Ganguli of the Los Angeles Times points out:
Houston got within six points with 54 seconds left on a Harden layup, but a charge by Rockets guard Eric Gordon gave the ball back to the Lakers with 28.4 seconds to go. In the final 30 seconds, the Lakers missed three free throws, a common nemesis.
"I asked the group who could make a damn free throw at the end of the game and [Kuzma] said, 'Me,' " coach Luke Walton said. "And they fouled him and he missed his first one and barely made the second one so I love his confidence."
It's the first win in a brutal stretch of games for the Lakers against the league's top teams. The win Wednesday followed their trend of playing those types of teams close.
They lost to the defending Eastern Conference champion Cleveland Cavaliers by nine points last Thursday. They lost to the NBA champion Golden State Warriors by two points in overtime on Monday.
In some ways, those losses might have led to this win.
"We lost a bunch of tough close games and our guys haven't lost faith or work ethic in what we are doing even though we have been losing games," Walton said. "They have been coming in and practicing just as well, just as hungry, just as motivated and keep getting better and it takes the failure, it hurts to really grow and come out stronger inside."