Kyle Kuzma is evolving into more than just a hot scorer

LOS ANGELES -- Kyle Kuzma was on one of his scorching hot runs, draining 3-pointers from all over the court and staring down a superstar scorer in the second half of a tight game.

This time, Kuzma was locked in a fourth-quarter duel with Kyrie Irving and the rookie didn't blink, scoring more than any Laker has in the fourth this season with 17 points and even recalling Showtime with a no-look behind-the-back beauty to Larry Nance Jr. for a dunk that sent Staples into a frenzy.

Kuzma made 6-of-7 shots and all three 3-pointers he launched in the fourth quarter to finish with 28 points and lift the Lakers to one of their best wins of the season, a 108-107 victory over the Boston Celtics.

"I just felt like every time I touched it, just trying to score and get in a good rhythm, they went in," said Kuzma, who also had fun going at it with Irving. "... We were talking a little bit. He's a great competitor. I like playing against guys like that. Good chirping."

Don't look now but the Lakers (18-29) have made some noise by winning seven of their last nine games, including wins over Boston and San Antonio. (The Lakers also have won six straight at home since LaVar Ball popped off on Luke Walton's coaching).

But despite playing their best basketball of the season, the Lakers got something they hadn't seen in some time. It had been a while since Kuzma exploded like this.

There was a torrid stretch in late December when Kuzma was as hot as anyone in the NBA. He scored 25 against Golden State, went toe-to-toe for as long as he could with James Harden when he scored 38 and hit 7-of-10 3s in a win before dropping 31 on Minnesota on Christmas.

But as good as Kuzma can be at filling up the basket, the Lakers wanted to see their forward do other things besides just score. They know Kuzma can get points -- that much has been established since the No. 27 overall pick broke onto the scene at summer league.

The Lakers want him to play better defense and become more of a playmaker who creates opportunities for teammates when defenses are focused on stopping him. They want to see Kuzma do some Lonzo Ball-like things.

Proving that he will stay on Kuzma about this, Walton benched the rookie for most of the second half in the Lakers' previous win over the Knicks because of defense, despite Kuzma scoring 15 points in 10 minutes. Kuzma made 6-of-8 shots but did not register a rebound, assist, steal or block in his 10:27 on the floor.

"The past 10, 12 games, I've done a pretty good job of really facilitating," Kuzma said. "Getting teammates into makes. Not really having nights where I have 20 points, zero assists. Just trying to find guys it's been helping."

For weeks Kuzma has been trying to focus on what the coaches want from him, and it was easy to see that he wasn't looking for his shot as he normally does. This was Kuzma's first 20-point game since Dec. 31.

After averaging 19.5 points, 7.6 rebounds and 15.9 shots per game in December, Kuzma averaged 12 points, 4.1 rebounds and 11.7 shots in January entering Tuesday's game against Boston.

Kuzma's assists, though, have slightly increased. In seven of his last nine games, Kuzma has had three or more dimes. That may not sound like a lot, but he had three or more assists a total of 10 times in his 37 previous games.

Against Boston, Kuzma's offense came to life again when he scored 15 points in less than five and a half minutes to turn a three-point deficit into a 97-91 lead with 4:47 left. When Kuzma gets hot, the Lakers often get a surge of energy, as does the home crowd, which loves the rookie.

But against Boston, Kuzma wasn't just burying shots. He had his no-look dish to Nance Jr. for an easy dunk during that span and later came up with a key offensive rebound and putback with 2:05 left to keep the Lakers lead at four, showing that he was trying to make plays even when he didn't get a shot for more than two minutes.

The Lakers know they will have to live with Kuzma's shot selection, which sometimes can feel like the aggressive and confident rookie is throwing up a heat check when he's not on fire yet. But Walton loves seeing Kuzma creating for teammates on drives, drawing the defense in and trying to make plays like that offensive board.

"Yeah it is a fine line with Kuz because we need his scoring and we need his gunslinger mentality, but with that comes some bad shots," Walton said. "So we show him all of his shots and we talk about good ones versus bad ones.

"What I thought he did a really nice job of tonight is being a playmaker when he gets going. That really demoralizes a defense. When he drives and they come to double him and he throws a pass to Larry for a dunk, that is really winning basketball right there. So it is a going to be a constant learning curve."

When Kuzma gets hot, though, he and his teammates can sometimes become engaged competitively in the game like they were against Boston. Too often this season, the youthful Lakers defense would disappear when their offense vanished.

Walton, though, wants Kuzma to do all the other things when his offense isn't there.

"Part of what makes him so good, is that freedom that we let him play with," Walton said. "But there is responsibility that comes with that. And we are on him on his shot selection [and playmaking] a lot."