The best things cer­tainly aren’t free for th­ese guys

Los Angeles Times - - NBA - By Ta­nia Gan­guli ta­nia.gan­guli@la­times.com Twit­ter @tani­a­gan­guli

One part of Wed­nes­day night’s game be­tween the Lak­ers and the Philadel­phia 76ers at Sta­ples Cen­ter fig­ures to be ugly.

Both teams have strug­gled with their free-throw shoot­ing this year. In fact, only the 76ers and the Char­lotte Hor­nets are shoot­ing worse than the Lak­ers’ 71% from the line.

“Some of it’s a skill thing,” Lak­ers coach Luke Wal­ton said. “A lot of it for us I think is a fo­cus thing. We do free throws at the end of pretty much ev­ery prac­tice. We did a free-throw com­pe­ti­tion at the end of train­ing camp. The bigs went 12 of 14 and the guards went 13 of 14. They’re able to hit free throws and they’ve had nights where they’ve shot them re­ally well.”

Brook Lopez and Kyle Kuzma are the Lak­ers’ two starters who shoot bet­ter than the team av­er­age. Lopez has made 83.3% of his free throws and Kuzma 81.3%. Lonzo Ball has made only 50%, with 12 of 24, Bran­don In­gram is at 63.8% (44 of 69), and Ken­tavi­ous Cald­well-Pope is shoot­ing ex­actly 71%.

“For us it’s un­der­stand­ing, one: how im­por­tant they are and, two: es­pe­cially for some of the young guys, take your time when you’re up there, be con­fi­dent, breathe, re­lax and just knock ’em down,” Wal­ton said. “I think that’ll come with ex­pe­ri­ence and we’re go­ing to keep work­ing on them ev­ery day.”

South Bay switch

The Lak­ers sent cen­ter Ivica Zubac and guard Josh Hart to the South Bay Lak­ers, their de­vel­op­ment league af­fil­i­ate. The team is on a twogame trip, for which Hart and Zubac are ex­pected to re­main with them, un­less the Lak­ers de­velop an in­jury sit­u­a­tion that re­quires bring­ing them back, Wal­ton said. The South Bay Lak­ers will play in Iowa on Wed­nes­day and then Austin on Satur­day.

Zubac spent last sea­son go­ing back and forth be­tween the Lak­ers and what was then called the D-Fend­ers. He be­gan to get play­ing time in Jan­uary and then started 11 games, most of them in March.

Hart was the 30th over­all pick in this year’s draft. Af­ter re­cov­er­ing from a train­ing camp ham­string in­jury, Hart had seen some de­cent re­serve min­utes for the Lak­ers. On their re­cent trip he played 25 min­utes to­tal in Bos­ton and Wash­ing­ton, then he did not play in the sec­ond half of the trip in Mil­wau­kee or Phoenix.

Wal­ton opted to play Van­der Blue in­stead of Hart in Mil­wau­kee, which is Blue’s home­town, be­cause he thought the Lak­ers needed to help their scor­ing. Blue also played 5:31 in Phoenix on Mon­day night.

That Blue hasn’t forced shots and scor­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties has im­pressed Wal­ton.

“He’s done a re­ally nice job as far as be­ing pro­fes­sional and try­ing to play the way that we want to play, and that’s not hunt­ing shots,” Wal­ton said. “For some­one that’s been dy­ing to get his op­por­tu­nity to buy into what we’ve been do­ing, [he] has been im­pres­sive.”

Scout­ing the 76ers

As of Tues­day af­ter­noon, Wal­ton had not yet prop­erly scouted the 76ers. That was Tues­day night’s home­work. But as a fan of the game, Wal­ton has seen high­lights of their games and caught some on tele­vi­sion.

They’ll of­fer an op­por­tu­nity for Wal­ton to see his young team against an­other young team that’s a lit­tle bit fur­ther in its de­vel­op­ment.

“They have a re­ally young core and we have a young core too,” Kuzma said. “Hope­fully each of those cores kind of grow and de­velop and fight for cham­pi­onships.”

One player Kuzma knows will test the Lak­ers is Ben Sim­mons, who is an early fron­trun­ner for rookie of the year. The 6-10 Sim­mons was part of the 2016 draft class, but he missed last sea­son with an in­jury. He is av­er­ag­ing 17.8 points, 9.2 re­bounds and 7.5 as­sists.

“He’s a very in­tel­li­gent bas­ket­ball player,” Wal­ton said. “He sees an­gles, he at­tacks those, he’s big and strong, he’s un­selfish. Even last night I thought he had a layup at the rim at the end of the game … that he dropped off to his big man. Plays like that are win­ning bas­ket­ball plays. They be­come con­ta­gious. And he’s got the size and strength to take ad­van­tage of the stuff that he sees.”

TONIGHT

VS. PHILADEL­PHIA When: 7:30 p.m. On air: TV: ESPN, Ra­dio: 710, 1330 Up­date: Philadel­phia beat the Clip­pers 109-105 on Mon­day. Joel Em­biid scored 32 points with 16 re­bounds, 14 of them de­fen­sive. They also got 31 points from Robert Cov­ing­ton, who hit a three-pointer that gave the 76ers the lead for good with 33 seconds left.

Kyusung Gong As­so­ci­ated Press

BROOK LOPEZ is the best free-throw shooter of the Lak­ers’ starters at 83%, well over the team av­er­age.

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