As Team USA tops Spain, Kyle Kuzma makes his case for a final roster spot

first_img Lakers practice early hoping to answer all questions Trail Blazers beat Grizzlies in play-in, earn first-round series with the Lakers Among the younger generation, Donovan Mitchell led the Americans with 13 points – rivaling the 16 points scored by his former teammate Rubio. Walker’s new Celtics teammates, Jayson Tatum and Jalen Brown, combined for 20 points as Team USA shot 55 percent from the field while holding Spain to 41 percent.It was enough to remind the basketball world that even a less star-studded USA team is still a formidable opponent. Still, Popovich marveled at the offensive gel of the Spanish team, hoping that with time, the Americans will find a similar kind of chemistry.“We hope to get close to something like that offensively,” he said. “It was a great experience for us.” AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREUCLA alum Kenny Clark signs four-year contract extension with PackersKuzma made some strides to help himself Friday night, in the USA’s 90-81 exhibition win over Spain, a slightly past-its-prime basketball power. But still sharing a court with NBA stalwarts such as Ricky Rubio and Marc Gasol, Kuzma held his own with seven points, five rebounds and three assists – potentially helping make his case that he belongs in red, white and blue next month on the international stage.In a year in which his more heralded teammates LeBron James and Anthony Davis have bowed out of international duty, Kuzma has a golden opportunity to represent the Lakers on Team USA. Asked if he’s done enough to make the final roster, Kuzma said yes.“I’m not one to really grade my performances, but I think my energy was at a high level,” he said. “That’s the only thing I can really control.”While scoring has been Kuzma’s staple as a Laker, USA basketball coaches such as Popovich and Steve Kerr have told him to focus on the less flashy aspects of the game: defensive rebounding, guarding his man, going after loose balls, making the right pass. The messages seemed to seep through: Kuzma shot six times, but also added five rebounds and three assists in his 17 minutes of play, leading several fast breaks off of rebounds or deflections.With Kuzma on the floor, the USA outscored Spain by 13 points – a higher plus-minus rating than any other player. ANAHEIM — If Honda Center had a say, it’d be a no-brainer: Kyle Kuzma would be on the team.He was the clear crowd favorite among the traditionally Lakers stronghold of Anaheim, the audience rumbling with a rallying cry of “KUUUUUZ” every time he was featured for Team USA.“Hearing Kuz every time I touch the ball,” he said, “it’s a friendly reminder how loyal the fans are.”But the USA Basketball roster is not ruled by the mob – it’s up to a group of men led by the often inscrutable Gregg Popovich, who is in his first year leading the program. While Kuzma’s odds are as good as ever – the national team needs to make only two cuts to reach the 12-man group they’ll take to the FIBA World Cup in China – much of the buzz from a week of camp in L.A. indicates that he’s still squarely on the bubble. Trail Blazers, Grizzlies advance to NBA play-in game; Suns, Spurs see playoff dreams dashed center_img Lakers, Clippers schedules set for first round of NBA playoffs It wasn’t a perfect effort. The 24-year-old also had a pair of turnovers on fruitless drives to the rim, as well as an inbounds pass to an empty stretch of the sideline that made Popovich’s shoulders slump.Few know what Popovich’s body language and tics actually mean in relation to his player assessments, much less how that will influence roster decisions. But over the course of two weeks on the court with the Spurs coach, Kuzma said he’s gotten a good feel for what’s expected.“At the end of the day, as long as you’re playing hard, playing defense, rebounding, that’s what (Popovich) wants,” he said. “That’s what he kind of prides all his teams on. As long as we do that, we can kind of stay on his good side.”The team will take all 14 current players to Australia before making final cuts, needing all the depth it can get with P.J. Tucker’s decision to bow out with an ankle injury. Popovich called the exhibition a “baptism” for a group that is relatively inexperienced in international competition.The few All-Stars who remain on the roster had good nights: Kemba Walker had an effortless-looking 11 points and eight assists, crossing up even the best Spanish guards. Khris Middleton had an efficient 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting.Related Articles Newsroom GuidelinesNews TipsContact UsReport an Error How athletes protesting the national anthem has evolved over 17 years last_img

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