Kuzma Gives Lakers Glimpse of What Could Be in Win Over Clippers


It’s easy to look at the box score from Thursday night’s Lakers-Clippers game and say Kyle Kuzma played well. He finished with 16 points, seven rebounds and knocked down 4/7 from deep.

But to do so would diminish the most impressive part of Kuzma’s performance: his defense, especially on Kawhi Leonard, which was crucial to the Lakers 103-101 win.

Kuz Clamps

Kuzma drew the assignment of matching up with the 2019 Finals MVP early in the first half. Frank Vogel stuck with it after the youngster showed discipline on multiple possessions and was very impressed with Kuzma’s effort.


The third-year forward out of Utah is typically not known for his defensive efforts. Still, he’s shown in the last two games against the Clippers that he does a surprisingly effective job guarding Leonard.

LeBron James had a couple big defensive stops on Leonard in the game as well, most notably the last possession. The Klaw was having his way with The King in the early going, however. The same can be said for Lakers wings Danny Green and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, but not for Kuz.

There was even a moment in the second half when Leonard called for a screen to get Kuzma switched off of him. That’s how well he was moving his feet tonight.

Another noteworthy moment came late in the game when Vogel subbed the 6-foot-8 forward in for KCP to close the game with two-and-a-half minutes remaining.


We haven’t seen Kuzma close many games this season, however, as he’s faced some ups-and-downs finding his fit in Vogel’s system alongside superstar big Anthony Davis.

Much of that can be attributed to Kuzma’s reduced time on the court. He was logging 33 minutes a game last season compared to about 25 a game this season. This consequently led to a drop in scoring from 18.7 PPG to 12.5 PPG, as well.

Kuz’s name was even tied to trade rumors before the deadline that would’ve brought Detroit Pistons point guard Derrick Rose to Los Angeles.

The drop in production had Lakers fans wanting Rob Pelinka to pull the trigger on the trade, though it was never actually offered by the Pistons. Things got tougher for Kuzma when the Lakers signed veteran forward Markieff Morris to add some depth and toughness to the bench.

Keep pushing

The noise never disrupted the Flint, Michigan native, however. He continued to play his role as a reserve and had some big games before the shutdown. One of those games was against these same Clippers on March 8.

Kuz finished that game with just eight points on 0/4 shooting from distance. He grabbed 10 boards in that game, however. Three on offense and a couple of which were put-backs that helped the Lakers secure a 112-103 victory.

Thursday’s performance was arguably Kuzma’s best of the season, however. He knocked down two momentous triples in the final frame to give the Lakers some breathing room and ultimately win the game. The big game came at the perfect time for the Lakers, too, as they look to clinch the No. 1 seed and get back in the groove before the playoffs.

Like Vogel said, “If he (Kuzma) can perform like that on the defensive end, we’re going to win a lot of games.”

Right you are, coach. Right you are.

(all stats via Basketball-Reference and ESPN) Follow us on Twitter @LakersLead for the latest Lakers news and insight.


About Sandeep Chandok

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