Lakers need Alex Caruso to step up as floor general

Ballhandling an issue with LeBron James and Dennis Schröder out
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Alex Caruso is the next man up.

The Los Angeles Lakers will be playing without their two primary ballhandlers in Thursday’s matchup with the Los Angeles Clippers at Staple Center, and perhaps longer.

Lebron James returned for two games last week -- after a six-week absence due to a right, high-ankle sprain. However, James missed his team’s win over the Denver Nuggets on Monday after re-aggravating the ankle over the weekend in a loss to Toronto. He will sit out at least Thursday’s game against the Clippers to allow for more recovery time.

Lakers head coach Frank Vogel said James is day-to-day.

Point guard Dennis Schroder missed Denver’s game due to the NBA’s health and safety protocols, and will be out 10 to 14 days, according to the team. Talen Horton-Tucker also did not practice Wednesday and is questionable with a right calf strain.

“That’s all we’re talking about right now, just short-term reinventing ourselves while those guys are out,” Vogel said. “Alex and Talen are going to handle the ball as much as possible and trade places additionally. But everybody’s got to be able to handle the rock.

“And we have to have more of a multiple ball handler approach with our offense.”

Vogel went on to say that players like Anthony Davis and Marc Gasol will be more involved in initiating the offense for the Lakers.

Caruso started at point guard in place of Schroder and Kyle Kuzma in place of James in Monday’s win over the Nuggets. However, the Lakers had trouble taking care of the basketball, finishing with 20 turnovers.

“I’m excited for the opportunity,” Caruso said. “This is nothing new for me in my career. Opportunity for me has always been something that presented itself and something that I’ve kind of worked toward being ready for. I’m excited to play against some of the best players in the league, night in and night out for this stretch. … I’m just looking forward to the challenge.”

Caruso finished with 11 points, five rebounds and three assists in 28 minutes against Denver. However, he also had three turnovers. As a team, the Lakers average 15.4 turnovers a contest – third-worst in the NBA.

“Alex is a far better point guard than people give him credit for,” Lakers center Andre Drummond said. “He’s a very good floor general. Alex has been a great leader for us, too. He brings us all in when it comes to the huddles. He’s always in constant communication when it comes to everybody on the team.

“So, I think making his job easier will be fun for me. Obviously, he’s not a guy that’s going to break somebody off one-on-one, so setting the pick and roll and having that game with him is a chemistry thing that I need to build with him.”

Taking care of the basketball and getting other players involved in the offense will be a priority for Caruso with James and Schröder out.

“My main responsibility is just getting us organized,” Caruso said. “Getting us in stuff that’s positive for us offensively. And then just being vocal on defense. LeBron is our main vocal leader on the court. I do a little bit, and some other guys, too. But he does the lion’s share for us.

“So, a lot of it is just me just telling guys where to be offensively and defensively. And just making good decisions, easy reads on pick and rolls, hitting guys when they’re open and being aggressive when I’ve got opportunities. Making solid choices with the basketball.”

When James returns or how healthy he is does not concern Caruso. He’s more worried about trying to help the Lakers when in the present, starting with the Clippers on Thursday.

“I might be a little naïve in saying this, but I really feel like I can win any basketball game that I play in,” Caruso said “That’s just kind of my nature as a competitor. As a human being, I just have that mindset, and to get to this point in my career I’ve had to have that mindset. … I really feel like any basketball game I play in, I’m going to win, at any given time. No matter the score, I feel like I have a chance.”