Lakers' Kentavious Caldwell-Pope accepts offensive challenge

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Broderick Turner
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Lakers guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope drives to the basket against Heat guard Duncan Robinson on Thursday in Miami.
Lakers guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope drives to the basket against Heat guard Duncan Robinson on Thursday in Miami. (Marta Lavandier / Associated Press)

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope had been challenged by Lakers coach Frank Vogel to come out of his recent doldrums and become more of an offensive force.

And with the Lakers even more short-handed than usual on Thursday night against the Miami Heat, it was imperative for Caldwell-Pope to break from his listless spell.

On a night when the Lakers lost 110-104 to the Heat in Miami with Kyle Kuzma and Talen Horton-Tucker joining LeBron James and Anthony Davis on the sideline, Caldwell-Pope's offensive game came out of hibernation.

He actually exceeded the goal Vogel had in mind, the shooting guard finishing his night with a season-high 28 points.

“He’s answering the bell. I’m asking him to be super aggressive, looking to score,” Vogel said after the game Thursday night on a videoconference. “I actually literally asked him to score 25 tonight. Until that last three, he had exactly 25 points and ended up with 28. We want him to be 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 in this kind of rhythm.”

The Lakers lost Kuzma for the Miami game because of a calf strain and Horton-Tucker because of his one-game suspension for leaving the bench during an altercation between the Lakers and Toronto Raptors on Tuesday night.

That meant many of the Lakers’ top scorers were not in action, so someone had to step into the void.

With Vogel pushing him, Caldwell-Pope stepped his game up, going shooting 11 for 20 from the field and six for 11 from three-point range. He also had four rebounds.

“I think it’s helped my game a lot. Like, coach just put me in opportunities to score the ball and to get shots up and I’m just taking full advantage of it,” Caldwell-Pope said on a videoconference. “Being aggressive like he said, trying to stay aggressive in every moment that I have the ball and just play, not worry about anything.”

As the season progressed, Caldwell-Pope’s game began to slide into the abyss.

In 13 games in March, he averaged 7.1 points and shot 34.9% from the field, 34.1% from three-point range. He averaged 2.7 rebounds and 1.6 assists.

Caldwell-Pope has become a changed player in the month of April.

He is averaging 15.5 points while shooting 48.9% from the field and a sizzling 53.8% from three-point range in four games this month. He’s averaging 5.0 rebounds and 2.0 assists this month.

“Just staying aggressive, hunting shots,” Caldwell-Pope said of his improvement. “And playing defense like I always do, just to get my motor going, get out in transition where I’m best at, get some easy layups. Maybe transition threes here and there. But just playing my game and being aggressive with it.”

New Lakers center Andre Drummond and Caldwell-Pope were teammates for four years with the Detroit Pistons.

Drummond has been impressed with Caldwell-Pope’s maturation over the years, and he was just as impressed by the offensive outburst from his teammate Thursday.

“Having that relationship with KCP and seeing how he is now from where he was when he got drafted in Detroit, it's night and day,” Drummond said in his videoconference . “Defensively, still an incredible defender. Shooting-wise has gotten so much better. Just his confidence off the dribble has been incredible for us. So tonight was a great game for him. Just sucks that we didn't win the game.”

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.