That Kyle Kuzma was going to be the star of the Lakers’ scrimmage was apparent early in Saturday’s midday contest.
Within 30 seconds of substituting for Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Kuzma sank a three-pointer. He made all four threes he attempted in the first quarter.
Lakers coach Frank Vogel was asked after the game if this version of Kuzma might have appeared at the start of this season had he not missed all of training camp and the first four games because of an ankle injury.
“I really believe that,” Vogel said. “I do.”
After a four-month break, Kuzma no longer was playing catch-up and it showed. He scored 25 points to lead the Lakers over the Orlando Magic, 119-112, making 10 of 13 shots, including five of seven three-pointers.
“After USA, I couldn’t be on the court for two, two and a half months,” Kuzma said of the left ankle injury he sustained while training with the national team. “Just sit at home, shoot from a chair. So I wasn’t really able to play right away. Especially lifting weights, I couldn’t really bear any weights lower body-wise to get ready for the season. So past four months, it’s been good for me getting in the gym and lifting heavy and getting ready. Having a full training camp definitely helped.”
The Lakers have scrimmaged twice at Disney World, the first a loss to Dallas on Thursday. The third and final will be against Washington on Monday. These will be their final tuneups before the season resumes Thursday.
This was designated a road game for the Lakers. The NBA tested its virtual fan idea with a simulation of Magic fans in boxes on the video boards, the way they had shown Laker Girls on the screen during the Lakers’ opening scrimmage.
LeBron James scored 20 points in 25 minutes 37 seconds, adding seven assists and two rebounds. Caldwell-Pope scored 17 points while Dion Waiters contributed 12.
For the Lakers, this was to be as close to their normal rotations as possible. Vogel planned to stagger the playing time of James and Anthony Davis, all the way into the fourth quarter.
Davis, though, was poked in the eye during the first quarter and did not return. He still managed nine points, 10 rebounds, a blocked shot and an assist in nearly 10 minutes. Vogel said after the game that Davis was day to day.
“We’ll probably stick with that,” Vogel said about staggering Davis and James. “I think with what Kuz is doing and the way Alex [Caruso] has been playing, I think you have some lineups that we can put out there that we have confidence in even if LeBron and AD were not in.”
Kuzma suffered a stress reaction in his left ankle last summer and had injuries during the season too. The break allowed him to heal and to put some work into certain parts of his game.
“I made a few, a few tweaks,” Kuzma said about his shot. “Nothing crazy, but a few just minor things that really helped me out. I worked on that point.”
But Vogel thinks it’s something else.
“He just works,” Vogel said. “He works on his shot; all our guys work on their shot. Tried little different subtleties to improve. But it’s the repetition that he puts in. That’s the reason why he’s making shots at a higher rate, not any types of tweaks.”