Kuzma thrives in Houston heat

Los Angeles Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma evading the attention of Houston Rockets forward PJ Tucker as he goes for a lay-up during the Lakers' upset victory over the Rockets. Rookie Kuzma contributed 38 points to the Lakers' cause, as they halted the We
Los Angeles Lakers forward Kyle Kuzma evading the attention of Houston Rockets forward PJ Tucker as he goes for a lay-up during the Lakers' upset victory over the Rockets. Rookie Kuzma contributed 38 points to the Lakers' cause, as they halted the Western Conference leaders' 14-game winning streak.PHOTO: REUTERS

Red-hot rookie leads Lakers to quell Harden's 51-point effort in Los Angeles' first win in four

HOUSTON • There were still more than two minutes left in the third quarter, and a sweat-drenched Kyle Kuzma threw himself heavily down on the Lakers bench during a timeout.

It was not because the 22-year-old forward was exhausted but it was indicative of the effort he put in at the Toyota Center.

"Houston is a very humid place. I think that's why I sweated so much, honestly," he told ESPN following Los Angeles' 122-116 National Basketball Association (NBA) upset victory over the Houston Rockets which snapped the Western Conference leaders' 14-game winning streak.

He led the Lakers' offensive charge by scoring a career-high 38 points as Los Angeles (11-18) dominated the Rockets (25-5) early before surviving a mid-game Houston rally to claim the win.

It ended their three-game losing skid.

"I scored 30 in the Summer League," Kuzma said of the NBA's off-season competition. "This is a better team but the same mentality. I've got the same mentality every time I step on the court, play my hardest and just be locked in."

CONSISTENT EFFORT

This is a better team but the same mentality. I've got the same mentality every time I step on the court, play my hardest and just be locked in.

KYLE KUZMA, Los Angles Lakers rookie forward, on giving his all in each game he plays.

Perhaps the only person hotter than Kuzma on Wednesday was Houston's James Harden.

The defeat spoiled a 51-point scoring performance by the guard, who also added nine assists.

The Rockets also lost for the first time with guard Chris Paul in their lineup (14-1).

Paul departed early in the fourth quarter with a sore left leg and did not return after scoring eight points in 25 minutes.

After the game, Rockets coach Mike D'Antoni played down the initial fears by confirming that Paul suffered an adductor strain, instead of another problem with his left knee which ruled him out for 14 games earlier this season.

"He could miss Friday, or not. I don't know," D'Antoni replied when asked if Paul will be available for their next game against the Los Angeles Clippers.

The Lakers shot 47.1 per cent overall and, after entering the game last in the NBA in three-pointers made, nailed 15 of 35 attempts from beyond the arc to keep the Rockets in check.

Los Angeles played without starters Brook Lopez (ankle) and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (personal reasons).

Kuzma got plenty of offensive help as half a dozen Lakers finished in double figures, including reserve forward Corey Brewer, who had a season-high 21 points.

Rookie point guard Lonzo Ball added 16 points and nine rebounds while Larry Nance and Brandon Ingram scored 13 apiece for the Lakers.

Eric Gordon scored 21 points off the bench for the Rockets, while Trevor Ariza added 18 points.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 22, 2017, with the headline 'Kuzma thrives in Houston heat'. Print Edition | Subscribe