Get your shots up.
That was the message Los Angeles Lakers head coach conveyed to shooting guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope before his team’s 110-104 loss to the Miami Heat on Thursday.
Caldwell-Pope responded with a season-high, 28-point performance in a tough loss to Miami without the services of LeBron James, Anthony Davis, Kyle Kuzma and Alex Caruso due to injuries.
With the Lakers averaging a league-low 101.4 points a contest over the last 10 games, Vogel asked Caldwell-Pope to shoulder more of the scoring load. The Georgia product has stepped up by scoring an average of 15.5 points a contest over the last four games.
“We definitely need it during this stretch and he’s answering the bell,” Vogel said about Caldwell-Pope. “I’m asking him to be super aggressive, looking to score. I actually, literally asked him to score 25 tonight (Thursday), and until that last three he had exactly 25 points and he ended up with 28.
“We want him being that aggressive, and again this could be one of those silver lining things where we get more out of him offensively when those guys come back when he gets this kind of rhythm.”
Caldwell-Pope struggled to find any kind of offensive rhythm during the first half of the season, passing up shots and not looking comfortable with his role in the offense. Just look at the stats.
He averaged 8.7 points and 2.4 rebounds a contest through the first half of the regular season. Caldwell-Pope shot 46.4 percent from 3-point range in the month of January but dropped to 38.4 percent in February.
Caldwell-Pope likely also took notice when the Lakers recently signed shooting guard Ben McLemore to help improve the team's perimeter shooting.
“I’m just staying aggressive and hunting shots,” Caldwell-Pope said, when asked what the key is to scoring consistently. “And playing defense like I always do to get my motor going. Get out in transition, where I’m best at and get some easy lay-ups. Maybe some transition 3s here and there, but just playing my game and being aggressive with it.”
Andre Drummond and Caldwell-Pope were both teammates with the Detroit Pistons. Drummond said he’s seen a difference in his teammate’s demeanor since joining the Lakers.
“Having that relationship with KCP and seeing where he is now from when he got drafted in Detroit is night and day,” Drummond said. “Defensively, he’s still an incredible defender and shooting-wise he’s gotten so much better. Just his confidence off the dribble has been incredible for us.”
The Lakers will need Caldwell-Pope at his best in facing the Eastern Conference-leading Brooklyn Nets on Saturday in a nationally televised game on ABC.
The Lakers lost the first matchup, a 109-98 victory for the Nets in Los Angeles on Feb. 18.
Similar to the first game, both sides will not be at full strength.
For the Lakers, James will miss his 11th game in a row due to a right, high-ankle sprain he suffered on March 20 against the Atlanta Hawks.
Davis also is a spectator, missing his 25th straight game because of a right calf strain. Both players are travelling with the team as the Lakers are in the middle of a seven-game road trip that finishes up with the New York Knicks on Monday and the Charlotte Hornets on Tuesday.
The Lakers are currently 2-2 on the road trip.
Kevin Durant also missed the matchup against Los Angeles earlier this year due to a hamstring injury but is healthy and will play on Saturday. However, James Harden will not play due to tightness in his hamstring. He is expected to be re-evaluated next week.
Even without Harden, Brooklyn remains one of the most dangerous teams in the league. The Nets enter Saturday’s matchup having won two straight and eight of their last 10 games. Unlike the Lakers, the Nets have no trouble scoring the basketball, leading the league by averaging 119 points a game.