The Los Angeles Lakers left Portland with a win to end their four-game losing streak. That victory was big not only to end the streak, but also because they have a big game ahead of them. The Lakers will take on the Dallas Mavericks tonight after having split their prior two matchups. However, the last time these two teams played, the Lakers were the ones on the losing end at home.
There is a bit of a difference between this Lakers team and the one that lost on December 1st, though: A noticeably healthy Kyle Kuzma. The last time these two teams played, Kuzma scored four points on 1-8 shooting from the field in 21 minutes. Kuzma has struggled to stay healthy all season, but as Frank Vogel noted at practice on Friday, the lineup with Kuzma, LeBron James, and Anthony Davis can do some serious damage.
“That’s a lineup with AD at the five, Kuz at the four, LeBron and then two other really good players that we have on the team that we feel like could be our best lineup,” Vogel told those of us at practice that day. “We haven’t had that much this season because of Kuz’s injuries.”
This season, the Lakers are 18-3 when Kuzma, James and Davis have played together. In a total of 119 minutes on the court as a trio, they’ve had a net rating (how many points per 100 possessions they outscore or get outscored by their opponents) of +24, which is the second-highest net rating on the team this season in three-player lineups that include James and Davis (the top-ranked is the two of them with Alex Caruso).
As Vogel points out, there’s still two other players to be inserted in that lineup. The lineup that has seen the most success there is adding Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Danny Green. That lineup has a played a total of just 30 minutes, and has had a net rating of +26.7. If you substitute out Green for Alex Caruso, they’ve played a total of 10 minutes and have had a net rating of +26.2.
It’s worth mentioning that those are exceedingly small sample sizes, as clearly due to Kuzma’s missed time as well as his minutes restriction, Vogel hasn’t been able to keep them out there for long. Still, in theory and in practice — at least so far — those two lineups are not only a danger defensively by switching on screens, but offensively as well. That three-man lineup is clearly the Lakers biggest weapon that they haven’t been able to truly use that much.
Kuzma has had ankle issues this season, but in the last few games, he’s noticeably looked like his old self. In his three games since returning from his most recent injury, Kuzma has averaged 21.7 points on 49.0% shooting from the field and 36.4% shooting from three. The Lakers have had a net rating of +5.5 when he’s on the court over those three games, whereas the team has had a -21.3 net rating when he’s off the court.
Kuzma had a rocky start to the season that has caused fans to be worried, although his play as of late appears to be showing that his injury truly was what has been holding him back. The Lakers will need Kuzma to continue his hot shooting, and for that three man lineup of Kuzma, James, and Davis to do damage against the Mavericks to help the purple and gold end 2019 with a win against a fellow Western Conference playoff team.
Beating Dallas — who have won 10 of their last 14 games, even with some absences from star guard Luka Doncic, who is back now — won’t be easy, but if Kuzma keeps rolling and his lineup with James and Davis looks good, the Lakers should have a good shot to go up 2-1 in the season series.
Notes and Updates
- LeBron James and Anthony Davis will play against the Mavericks, Frank Vogel announced pregame.
- Danny Green believes the Lakers should play with more pace and move the ball around more in the fourth quarter, because he believes that “by the fourth quarter, a lot of our guys are out of rhythm, probably missing some shots that we normally make because the ball hasn’t moved or the pace isn’t the same as it usually is to start the game.”
- As we close out the year, I rounded up the top 10 dunks of the decade. Give it a watch, if you haven’t already.
The Lakers take on the Mavericks at 6:30 p.m. PST, and the game will be televised nationally on ESPN and locally on Spectrum SportsNet.