Los Angeles Lakers’ second-year forward Kyle Kuzma set a new career-high 41 points through just three quarters of play in the team’s 113-100 win over the Detroit Pistons on Wednesday inside Staples Center.
“My teammates allowed me to get a lot of shots, finding me,” said Kuzma. “For the most part, I think everything was in the rhythm of the offense, which was a good thing for everybody.”
Two days after shooting 4 for 20 from the field, Kuzma rebounded by becoming just the fifth NBA player this season to score 40 or more points in three quarters. The former Utah Ute joined the likes of his teammate LeBron James, Warriors’ tandem Steph Curry and Klay Thompson, and reigning MVP James Harden of the Houston Rockets on that elite 40 plus list. Kuzma’s previous career-high of 38 points came last season against the Houston Rockets on Dec. 20, 2017.
After starting out zero for four from the three-point line, Kuzma followed up with making five out of his next six three-point attempts.
“I know I’m a great shooter,” Kuzma said. “My percentages may not reflect that, but I’m always confident in shooting, and I’m always in the gym just trying to continue to put work in every single day, and it paid off.”
Lakers’ head coach Luke Walton emphasized that Kuzma’s on-the-court success has much to do with his relentless work ethic.
“What a lot of people don’t know is that even though yesterday was an off day, he was in the gym and he got off 500 shots,” commented Walton. “It’s not like he just came out and had a hot night. He put in that work.”
It paid off as Kuzma nailed a three-pointer in the third quarter and was fouled on the play that marked his new career-high. He totaled 22 points in the third quarter alone on his career night.
Though scoring comes naturally to Kuzma, the defensive side of the ball has been an area in which he has continued to place his focus. On Wednesday, Kuzma was tasked with guarding Piston’s Blake Griffin, who is averaging 8.3 rebounds a game this season. The Lakers’ starter rendered Griffin rebound-less in the game though he did finish with 16 points and six assists.
“Since the end of last season we have given him bigger and bigger assignments…and he has done a nice job,” remarked Walton. “He’s definitely made huge strides and we think he’ll continue to make those types of strides.
Both Walton and Kuzma’s teammates discussed how the former NBA All-Rookie First Team has an unmatched level of self-confidence and desire to be one of the NBA’s greats.
“Kuz, his confidence is never going to waver no matter how he shoots,” stated fellow second-year Laker, Lonzo Ball. “We know he’s one of the best scorers on this team and we look to him for points.”
Kuzma suffered a minor setback after sustaining a back injury that sidelined him for two games. In James’ absence, he has continued to step up in a major way.
At the end of the third quarter after notching his new career-high, Kuzma headed to the bench and would stay there for the remainder of the game. The Lakers maintained a healthy 89-77 lead going into the final quarter.
With Kuzma on the bench, Michael Beasley entered the game on his thirtieth birthday. Beasley added 19 points, four assists, two rebounds and two blocks in nearly 19 minutes of play for the Lakers.
“If I’m a great scorer, Kuz is scary,” Beasley commented. “He took a lot of shots that a lot of guys wouldn’t look at, especially his late threes. As long as he keeps his foot on the gas, the sky is the limit.”
The same can be said for the Lakers when the team is clicking on all cylinders like in the Pistons’ victory. The Lakers will travel to Utah to face the Jazz on Friday, Dec. 11, before returning to Staples Center on Sunday, Dec. 13, where James’ former Cleveland Cavaliers will visit.