In his first game at STAPLES Center, Kyle Kuzma made himself at home, much to the delight of Lakers fans in attendance.
The crowd collectively cheered “Kuuuuz!” when he checked into the game. That name continued to ring through the arena often, as the rookie dropped a team-high 23 points in the Lakers’ 113-107 preseason loss to Denver.
“It’s one of the best arenas in basketball,” Kuzma said of STAPLES Center. “It’s always fun to play in an arena like this, especially with our loyal fans.”
Kuzma led the Lakers in scoring for the second time in as many exhibitions; this time hitting four 3-pointers along the way. He was at his hottest as Los Angeles attempted a late-game comeback.
Down by 13 with about three minutes left, Kuzma took over, hitting back-to-back 3-pointers and a layup to pull the score to 113-107 with 57 seconds to go.
Though the Lakers wouldn’t come any closer, Kuzma’s 11 fourth-quarter points were another bright moment for the player that many around the team have dubbed “the steal of the draft.”
“I think I’m just ready for this level,” said Kuzma, who went 9-of-17 from the field. “That’s why I left school. I felt that I’m a good enough shooter, just a good enough player overall.”
Second-overall pick Lonzo Ball had his team rolling in the first quarter, but he also gave the Lakers a fright just before halftime.
Ball had the highlight of the night early on, leaping up for a Jordan Clarkson lob and throwing it down as Lakers President Magic Johnson clapped approvingly courtside.
Lonzo — who finished with eight points (3-of-6) and four assists — was more comfortable than in Saturday’s preseason opener.
“It feels more natural out there,” Ball said. “I felt like I started the game pretty well. I thought we started as a team pretty well. He brought energy. Unfortunately we didn’t hold it for 48 minutes.”
After Lonzo and the Lakers scored 31 first-quarter points, the offense cooled and Denver made its move behind 25 points and five 3-pointers from Gary Harris.
More importantly than a lost preseason game, the Lakers were happy to see Ball recover quickly from a mild left ankle sprain.
Ball swatted a layup attempt by Emmanuel Mudiay, but landed on Mudiay’s foot on his way down.
Ball simply called it a “basketball play” and expects to be all right moving forward.
Head coach Luke Walton was impressed by the play of Julius Randle, who packaged together a 12-point, 10-rebound double-double.
While Randle had 15 points and seven boards on Saturday, Walton felt that this more recent performance was much better.
In particular, he praised Randle for resisting fatigue, learning from his mistakes and being vocal on the help side of the defense.
“Individually tonight, he probably had the biggest jump from last game to this game,” Walton said. “I know his numbers were nice last game as well, but he was just locked in.”
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Rookie center Thomas Bryant was active with four points, five rebounds and four assists. He was a plus-16 in 17 minutes. … Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (15 points, five rebounds, four assists) and Luol Deng (nine points, four offensive rebounds) had nice moments for L.A. … Before the game, the Lakers held a moment of silence for victims of Sunday night’s shooting in Las Vegas. … After the game, the song “American Girl” played in honor of longtime Lakers fan Tom Petty, who died earlier that day.