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Kyle Kuzma is Lakers’ best bet in crunch time

The Lakers have their “King of the Fourth” and it’s not who you think it is.

NBA: San Antonio Spurs at Los Angeles Lakers Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Lakers snapped a three-game losing streak against the San Antonio Spurs Wednesday at STAPLES center, sweeping their season series against Spurs for the first time in 20 years.

For context, Kyle Kuzma, the Lakers’ leading scorer on Wednesday, was just two years old the last time the Lakers swept the Spurs in the regular season. Kuzma poured on a game-high 30 points, including five points in the fourth quarter and six huge points in overtime.

Kuzma is slowly becoming the Lakers’ go-to guy with the game on the line because of his fearlessness in crunch time. He not only has the confidence to take the big shots, but he also has the skill and the composure to make them.

“It’s fun watching him compete at that level, when he gets in that area and that zone,” head coach Luke Walton said. “I think he’s doing a really nice job of not trying to do that all of the time. Understanding time and score, understanding when he has it going, when the team needs him to score a big bucket. For him to already start to feel that out, is exciting for the future and his growth as a player.”

Kuzma is second among rookies in total fourth quarter points this season with 368 points, trailing only Donovan Mitchell, who has 464. He also leads the Lakers in total fourth quarter points on a respectable 47 percent shooting from the field and 36.8 percent shooting from behind the arc.

Following Wednesday night’s win, Kuzma said there was only one goal on his mind going into the final few quarters: “kill.”

“Just kill,” Kuzma said. “Just try to win. I didn’t want to lose that game. We’ve been losing the past couple of games, so we tried to just kill.”

The Spurs had no answer for Kuzma, who hit them everything he had, including pull-up jumpers, spin moves in the post and running sky hooks. Did I mention he’s only 22 years old and a rookie?

“I thought Kyle Kuzma got away from us,” Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich said, “he did a great job.”

Kuzma logged 43 minutes on Wednesday, three minutes short of his season-high. The former Utah product has played 40-plus minutes in 10 games this season, including six times in the last month.

But heavy legs don’t seem to bother Kuzma when he is on the floor. According to Kuzma, it’s all mental to him.

“Coming off of a back-to-back, it’s always tough, let alone playing in Utah at that altitude and coming back here on a late trip. I just told myself from the jump ‘I’m not tired,’ and that helped me,” Kuzma said.

Walton praised Kuzma’s willingness to fight through fatigue, saying it takes a “special player” to hit big shots with tired legs.

“[Kuzma] plays to exhaustion,” Walton said, “and then most times plays through it. They have the saying ‘fatigue makes a coward of us all,’ and that’s true except for a few special players and they know how to fight through that and I thought Kuz, tonight, did.

“There’s been some nights where he’ll tell me ‘I need a break, I just need one’ ... but tonight I could tell he wasn’t going to ask to come out of that game, he was going to fight through it.”

Early in his young career, Kuzma has shown he wants to be the guy with the ball in his hands when it’s winning time. While it might be too early to call him “clutch,” he has certainly made a compelling case for himself in his rookie season.

All quotes were transcribed via LakersTV (@LakersTV).

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