El Segundo — The apple doesn’t fall to far from the tree, it seems. Like the Los Angeles Lakers, it took the South Bay Lakers four games to get their first win of the regular season, and they couldn’t have done it without a stellar performance from Alex Caruso, who drained the game-winning 3-pointer over the Iowa Wolves.
Going into the game, Caruso was ice cold from the field, making just 7 of his total 27 shot attempts through three games. However, in South Bay’s 119-118 win over Iowa on Monday, Caruso nearly ended the night with a triple-double.
In a team-high 34 minutes for the Lakers, Caruso put up 26 points on 9-15 shooting from the field to go with 11 assists and 7 rebounds. Four of his made baskets were 3-pointers.
It was only a matter of time before Caruso broke of his shooting slump, and the 24-year-old said that he felt like himself again following the game.
“I think tonight was more of a game like I’ve played in the past,” Caruso told Silver Screen and Roll. “I think the first couple of games I wasn’t really myself. I was kind of just out there going through the motions a little bit and I didn’t realize I was doing it until after the game when I started watching some tape. I realized there’s more opportunity for me to be aggressive, and when I’m aggressive it opens things up for my teammates.”
Caruso came up big for South Bay in the clutch, hitting the game-winning 3-pointer with seconds left on the clock, but he said that shot was no more or less special than the other nine he made on Monday.
“It’s the same as me shooting all of the other ones,” Caruso said. “The time and score is a little different but for it’s just another shot ... I haven’t been shooting great the first three games of the year so it was good to get some to fall tonight, but that shows the confidence I have in myself and the repetition I put in every day at practice, after practice. Just preparing for moments so when they come I’m ready to shoot.”
I’m sure it didn’t hurt that LeBron James, Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Rajon Rondo and Ivica Zubac were in attendance to watch him play either. While none of them stuck around to talk about Caruso’s big night, Moe Wagner wasn’t shy about his appreciation for his teammate, who he said he wasn’t sure about to begin with.
“AC is a winner,” Wagner told Silver Screen and Roll. “I remember Coby Karl and I had a conversation in summer league, he had a tough couple of games to begin with in Sacramento coming from the USA trip and I asked — because I’d never seen AC play — and Coby was like ‘He’s a winner, you will see.’
“After that he had an amazing summer league and I trust AC with the ball, with everything. He’s just been a tremendous leader in the locker, on the court and he stepped up for us today.”
With the depth the Lakers have at point guard in Lonzo Ball and Rajon Rondo, Caruso’s opportunities with the parent team will be limited barring injury, however, if he has nights like he did against Iowa regularly, he could sneak into the rotation later in the season.
Svi’s South Bay debut
Los Angeles Lakers rookie Svi Mykhailiuk made his debut for the South Bay Lakers on Monday and while he didn’t get off to a great start, he was huge for South Bay down the stretch.
Mykhailiuk ended the game with 21 points, second to only Alex Caruso for the game-high, and knocked down a pair of big 3-pointers in the fourth quarter to bring South Bay back into the game.
Caruso said that Mykhailiuk was one of the reasons he was able to get back on track on Monday.
“He was great,” Caruso said. “Any time you’ve got a guy like Svi who’s a really good defender, can stretch the floor on offense, it helps your team and I think that might be a reason I had 11 assists. There was a lot of room in the paint because they might have been hugged up on him a little more. Just having a guy that has the skillset he has and is a good player, it always helps to have them out there running with you.”
With the resurgence of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope over the past few games for the Lakers, Mykhailiuk might find that his best bet for playing time will be with the G League with South Bay. It’s clear his shot still isn’t where he’d like it to be, and the only way that it’s going to get there is with the reps he has a clearer path towards in the G League right now.
Isaac Bonga gets banged up
Isaac Bonga suffered a mild ankle sprain in the first quarter of the game on Monday, according to the team. There is currently no timetable for his return, but it doesn’t sound like it’s anything serious.
Bonga has been one of South Bay’s best players early on in the season. It’s going to hurt them if he misses a few games, but he’s shown enough for the organization and fans to be excited about his future whenever he returns — if he even does miss any time at all.
All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted. You can follow this author on Twitter at @RadRivas.