Kyle Kuzma and the Los Angeles Lakers are searching for answers.
The exasperated defending champions lost their third straight game and sixth of seven overall on Sunday, in a wobbly 121-114 loss to the Toronto Raptors.
Anthony Davis: “It's the lowest we’ve been in a while, at least in the past two years … It really can’t get any lower than this … It just feels like it’s always something with us.”
Like LeBron, AD dejectedly mentioned the last-minute loss of Dennis Schroder tonight
— michael corvo (@_michaelcorvo_) May 3, 2021
The loss dropped L.A. (36-28) into a three-way tie with the Dallas Mavericks and Portland Trail Blazers for the undesirable No. 7 seed and a spot in the play-in-tournament — a concept LeBron James is suddenly starkly against.
LeBron on the play-in tournament: “Whoever came up with that shit need to be fired”
— michael corvo (@_michaelcorvo_) May 3, 2021
Kuzma, James, Anthony Davis, and head coach Frank Vogel collectively voiced various points of frustration in their postgame remarks. The Lakers are 0-2 since James returned and 1-6 since Davis rejoined the lineup, as both players have yet to find a groove with Andre Drummond.
Kuzma may not have the solutions, but he did offer one suggestion for the coaching staff: adjust the center rotation.
The Drummond experiment has produced mixed results. In 12 games since joining the Lakers — which relegated incumbent starter, Marc Gasol, from the rotation (he was not happy) and reduced Montrezl Harrell’s role — Drummond has averaged 12.3 points and 10.2 rebounds in 25.2 minutes. His defensive effort and his marginally successful high-volume shooting in the paint have not always been positives.
Against Toronto, Drummond put up 19 points and 11 rebounds in 26 minutes, but shot the ball 14 times and offered little resistance on defense. Gasol did not see the floor.
…. & Marc Gasol is getting DNP's….. pic.twitter.com/5DLBWjQqzK
— Will (@boswaldinh0) May 3, 2021
Gasol averaged 19.8 minutes per game prior to Drummond’s debut. He’s been inactive for eight games since.
By contrast, Gasol has responded with some of his best basketball of the season in spot opportunities. He’s shooting over 58% from three over eight games since Drummond joined, and has offered valuable stretches of relief that have spurred ball movement and spaced the floor.
Marc Gasol should be playing pic.twitter.com/HRuIQ22BMx
— kody (@otanigoat) May 1, 2021
LeBron leads to back to back 3s by Ben McLemore and Marc Gasol
we missed you Bron Bron#Lakeshow
— #Albela معاذ (@_iammaaz_) May 1, 2021
It’s not surprising to hear Kuzma advocate for more Marc minutes. The forward’s proclivity for backdoor-cutting and igniting ball movement gels with Gasol’s philosophical approach to the sport, and the two had developed some nifty chemistry earlier in the season. (CBS Sports’ Sam Quinn broke down Gasol and Kuzma’s give-and-go game and the Spaniard’s influence of Kuzma’s improved dishing.)
And just another dime from Gasol to Kuzma off the curl. pic.twitter.com/wuhjgIVOpI
— Mo Dakhil (@MoDakhil_NBA) December 14, 2020
Now, the sputtering Lakers are in need of that degree of cohesion and familiarity.
“I just don’t think we’re connected right now,” Kuzma said. “I just think we’re unhealthy and not good enough…We just got to get back onto it, try to find out someway, somehow to get it clicking again and find that spark.”
Drummond took a bargain to start for the Lakers ahead of his free agency. It’s part of the agreement between both sides, so don’t expect that to change. However, Vogel did repeatedly prop up Gasol’s importance to the team following the demotion (a bit of ego-massaging from the coach) and signaled an excitement to test out lineups featuring Gasol and Harrell together. That never happened.
Unfortunately for Kuzma, the Lakers’ list of issues continues to lengthen as the calendar dwindles, and Vogel said the Lakers were no longer “trying to experiment in any way right now.”
James was unable to finish the game due to ankle soreness. Dennis Schröder was placed in the league’s health and safety protocols on Sunday. (Kuzma also took a swipe at the protocols, as Schröder also did when he was forced out for four games in February. “I think it’s just unfortunate how these protocols are this year,” Kuzma said Monday. L.A. is 0-5 without Dennis in 2020-21.)
Plus, the schedule doesn’t get any easier.
The floundering and limping Lakers are now looking at five straight matchups against playoff teams, including four back-to-backs across their final eight games. The second leg of the first of those four will go down at Staples Center on Monday, as the Lakers will welcome the red-hot Denver Nuggets, winners of five straight.
They might have a center for Gasol to check.