No James, no Davis, no problem as Kuzma takes control

OKLAHOMA CITY • The Los Angeles Lakers fully expected victory, even without LeBron James and Anthony Davis.

Kyle Kuzma was among those who took advantage, scoring a season-high 36 points as the visitors rolled past the Oklahoma City Thunder 125-110 on Saturday night.

James, who is averaging 25.4 points, a league-leading 10.7 assists and 8.7 rebounds per game, had a chest cold. Davis, their leading scorer with an average of 27.1 points per game, sat out his second straight National Basketball Association game with a bruised tailbone injury.

Still, the Lakers had enough to win, even against a Thunder team that won 11 of their last 13 games.

Kuzma, in just his third start of the season, made 15 of 24 shots, while Rajon Rondo added 21 points, 12 rebounds and eight assists. The Lakers shot 51.5 per cent from the field to win their eighth in a row to improve to 32-7.

"That's why you have a great team," said Quinn Cook, who led the Lakers' reserves with 13 points. "We want to have guys who contribute one through 15. That's the goal of anybody putting a team together.

"Obviously, this team is talented. Everybody is selfless and everybody is ready. We all put the work in."

Hailing Rondo for "setting the tone for us", Kuzma added: "Going right after CP (Chris Paul) right out of the gate, being aggressive with his scoring. A lot of times, everybody knows him as a pass-first guy. He came out today in attack mode.

"I just got an opportunity to get scoring opportunities, having the ball in my hands."

It was a statement victory by the Lakers as they raced to a 73-49 halftime lead over the Thunder, inflicting the hosts' largest half-time deficit of the season.

They extended the lead to 32 in the third quarter before Oklahoma rallied and trimmed their deficit to 102-82 at the end of the period.

The Thunder got as close as 11 points with 2min 37sec to go before a short jumper and a three-pointer by Kuzma ended the rally.

James had expressed his hope to see Kuzma develop into the team's "third scorer" behind Davis and himself and Frank Vogel believes he is getting his groove back after an injury-hit start to the campaign.

The Lakers coach said: "I really think that's going to carry over to when those guys ( James and Davis) come back, and we'll continue to see his minutes grow and grow throughout the season."

Shai Gilgeous-Alexander and Danilo Gallinari each scored a team-high 24 points for Oklahoma and Gallinari admitted it had been a tough lesson for his team, who have been playing better than expected with a 22-17 record this season.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 13, 2020, with the headline 'No James, no Davis, no problem as Kuzma takes control'. Print Edition | Subscribe