Everyone hoping for a competitive basketball game between two title contenders on Christmas got their wish, as the Lakers went down to the wire with the Clippers. However, fans of the purple and gold hoping for the team’s first win against a true contender ended up with some coal in their stocking, as a couple of unnecessary fouls from Danny Green and Anthony Davis down the stretch helped toss away a winnable game for the Lakers, who ultimately fell 111-106 after Patrick Beverley knocked the ball out of James’ hands on a possession in which the Lakers could have tied up the game and sent it to overtime.
The Lakers have the same flaws they’ve shown all year, and clearly need another ballhandler to ease the load on LeBron James, but they came a lot closer to winning this game than they did on opening night, and if there is one main silver lining to take away from this one, it’s that they’re not that far off from being able to beat the Clippers. Losing a game they led at halftime and for most of the way hurts, but in the optimistic spirit of the season, it’s worth pointing out that none of these losses have implied there is no hope. A five-point defeat — even one with a blown lead — certainly doesn’t.
Here are two other positives from a night most are not going to stay positive about, but really wasn’t the end of the world:
Kyle Kuzma may have finally broken out of his slump
Kuzma scored 16 points total in the last Lakers game against the Nuggets, and nearly surpassed that total in the first quarter alone against the Clippers on Sunday night. Kuzma came out of the gates on fire, dropping 15 points in the first frame before finishing the game with 25.
One good game doesn’t mean that Kuzma will permanently be this player as the season moves forward, but this was the exact version of Kuzma the Lakers need, even if they may not need this exact production every night. He came off the bench, mostly picked his spots and scored smoothly in the flow of the offense and allowed the team to survive a slow start from LeBron James. It seems he wasn’t joking when he said this is the best he’s felt this season.
Guarding Kawhi Leonard with Anthony Davis might be a matchup the Lakers can go to
Davis didn’t shut Leonard down by any means — he finished with 35 points — but he didn’t get embarrassed in his moments defending him either, which can be chalked up as a win for a Lakers team lacking in bigger wing defenders. Leonard eviscerated Kentavious Caldwell-Pope on opening night, and with Paul George back, Frank Vogel couldn’t have Danny Green guard both players. He opted to start with Davis on Leonard so that Green could mostly guard George, and it was disruptive on enough possessions to be worth further exploring.
The results weren’t perfect, and the Lakers will really need LeBron to take on more of the load here in a theoretical playoff matchup, but for the second game against the Clippers it looked like an option the Lakers can go to in a pinch.
The Lakers have now lost four in a row, and will have two days off before their next game to sort some things out, before they travel to take on the Portland Trail Blazers on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. PST.