Lakers hope youth movement gives them juice during regular season – Press Enterprise

LOS ANGELES — LeBron James has a way of drawing attention to his orbit. But even as he scored 50 points Friday night, he was hardly alone as the Lakers pulled away in the fourth quarter.

There were Malik Monk 3-pointers in quick succession. There was Talen Horton-Tucker spinning past Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and dipping over Kyle Kuzma. There was Austin Reaves attacking a closeout and completing a layup over Corey Kispert.

The Lakers’ young players were so strong that Russell Westbrook sat on the bench for almost the last nine minutes of the 122-109 win over Washington.

“These are talented guys,” said coach Frank Vogel. “They have continued to improve and feel better and more comfortable in our system and in our environment. And I put them in as 21 for 38. Malik, Austin and Talen. This trio is one of the other reasons why I think we have a chance.”

It seems telling that in a roster that initially heralded its experience, the young members of the Lakers have been the players Vogel is leaning on of late. Trevor Ariza, Dwight Howard and Avery Bradley didn’t play a minute against the Wizards. The Lakers started for the fourth time this season with a starting lineup of James, Westbrook, Reaves, Monk and Stanley Johnson (no Lakers lineup has ever started more than five times).

When the team closed with that group and Horton-Tucker in Westbrook’s place, Vogel said it wasn’t a charge against Westbrook (who was 2 for 11 but had 9 assists against a turnover) but rather an endorsement of that particular lineup.

“The game is about the five guys on the floor,” he said. “These three guys (Monk, Reaves, Horton-Tucker) played at a super high level. Defensively we wanted to have Stanley in the lead. And it was just about having these guys in there to win, that’s all it was.”

There are several key factors behind the ninth-place Lakers’ conviction that they can cause damage in the postseason. One is James, who now leads the NBA in point averages (29.7 ppg). One is Anthony Davis, who may or may not recover in time to attend a potential play-in game(s) in April. One is Westbrook, whose hit-or-miss performances keep the Lakers hoping he could turn it on at the right time, like he did in Washington last season.

But an understated factor is the youth movement that’s underway among the Lakers. With Vogel gradually turning to younger players for stability reasons, their advantage could very well be the difference for the embattled franchise.

“I expect these guys to play because they’re on the floor and I know what they’re capable of,” James said. “I know what Malik is capable of. Obviously I’ve been in the foxhole with THT and Austin has proven itself. So it was great to see these guys play on the track. Especially when the wizards started doubling pick and rolls with my isos and these guys kept making plays. It was great to see that.”


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