April 11, 2021

DCTRS

Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

Lakers: Five takeaways from victory over the Timberwolves

The Lakers, despite playing without All-Star forward Anthony Davis, improved to 2-1 on the new season.

Here are five takeaways from the Lakers’ 127-91 victory over Minnesota on Sunday at Staples Center.

1) Kyle Kuzma got hot, like flame-thrower hot, like first sip of boiling tea hot. He drained his first four three-point shots, scored 20 points in the first half and played with a ton of confidence.

But the most noticeable things Sunday were the little things: the extra passes, the tight rotations, the blocked shots and his poise. By my count, Kuzma took only two shots you’d consider questionable. One was an all-out heat-check three in the first half — and with as hot as he was, he’d earned the right to shoot from anywhere. The second was an isolation mid-range jumper in the second half.

“He didn’t force. That was the most impressive thing, I think, of his night,” coach Frank Vogel said. “When he got red-hot, when the ball was swinging to him and the defense was rotating, he didn’t take heat-check type shots. He just kept moving it on to the next guy. If he was open, he knocked it down. I was really impressed with that aspect of his game tonight.”

Kuzma started for Anthony Davis, who sat with a sore calf, and set the tone for the Lakers offensively with his shooting and unselfish passing.

Highlights from the Lakers’ 127-91 victory over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Sunday.

“The game is just slowing down for him,” LeBron James said. “His ability to score the ball, we all know about that, shot-making ability, guarded or unguarded. But what he’s done this year so far, even through our short training camp [and] actually later in the postseason, is start seeing the extra pass. He starts seeing plays happening. And you look at the pass he had to KCP [Kentavious Caldwell-Pope] in transition tonight, you see an example of that — Trez [Montrezl Harrell] for a dunk.

“He’s just starting to make plays and see plays that he didn’t see the first couple years. And that’s all a part of growth.”

2) Marc Gasol broke out of a two-game slump to showcase what he brings to the table for the Lakers — a tremendously smart and selfless player who can impact games with his mind and eyes more than his physicality.

In 21 minutes Sunday, he had 12 points, seven rebounds, eight assists and four blocks, showcasing the stuff that always made his game so revered around the NBA.

“Just certain guys see plays before they happen,” James said. “Do it with their mind, do it with the pass and Marc is one of those guys. His basketball IQ is … there’s not many that kind of see the game like that.”

Vogel pledged to get Gasol more involved as a playmaker after he scored just two points and dished out a single assist in the Lakers’ first two games. Sunday, Gasol was often the Laker asked to make the right play at the right time because the ball was in his hands more often.

“We’ve been talking about it,” Vogel said. “We just didn’t do it enough the first two games.”

3) James rolled his left ankle again, and while that joint seems bionic, his status for Monday’s game against Portland is questionable.

“it’s been better but it feels pretty good,” James said. “Obviously tomorrow, once I go to sleep and lay down it will be the telltale sign of how good or how not good it is. So, I don’t want to say I’m looking forward to that, but we’ll see tomorrow.”

The Lakers have promised to be conservative with James and Davis in the early part of the season, and with Davis possibly able to play Monday, it wouldn’t be surprising to see James get a night off.

4) The Lakers’ offense has been playing beautiful, ball-movement basketball in its last two games, recording 65 assists in wins over Dallas and Minnesota.

It’s something that could be an identity for the team on offense, especially with the pandemic season making it likely that players could end up shuffled in and out of the team’s lineup.

“That’s gonna be our identity. No one should ever feel like they should do too much, and we have so many players that can go out and play,” James said. “So like I said, no one should ever feel pressured to go out and do too much. We’re a ball-movement team, body movement. There was great energy behind the pass.

“When you have that movement, everybody feels comfortable, feels like they’re a part of it. So we want to continue to do that the whole season, no matter who’s in the lineup.”

5) The Lakers have a chance to go 3-1 with a win Monday, but more valuably, they’ve had on-court time to examine their new roster.

Vogel said games must be his laboratory this season, especially early, with the Lakers trying to keep fresh by cutting practice time.

“We talked openly about that with our group,” he said. “These games matter. The first few games are still part of what would normally be a preseason and we’re exploring combinations and getting guys up to speed on the fly. We wanted to have the mind set tonight that when we got a big lead, the score was irrelevant. We’re working on our habits.”