Los Angeles Lakers

Talen Horton-Tucker Turns Heads in Lakers 131-106 Preseason Win Over Clippers

LA Clippers v Los Angeles Lakers
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"Play free."

That was the advice given to Los Angeles Lakers guard Talen Horton-Tucker ahead of his second preseason game on Sunday night.

In his first preseason game on Friday, Horton-Tucker showed flashes of brilliance. He played so well in that contest that he caught the attention of 2019 NBA Finals MVP Kawhi Leonard, who needed confirmation that the rising star was still just 20 years old.

In his second preseason game on Sunday, Horton-Tucker turned heads again, scoring a team-high 33 points and 10 rebounds in the Lakers 131-106 thrashing of the LA Clippers.

At one point in the game, Horton-Tucker showed off his length and defensive prowess, when he swiped the ball away from Leonard and pushed it on the offensive end on the break. In real time, it was a play reminiscent of Leonard himself, able to snatch the ball out of opponent's hands with ease.

Horton-Tucker had it all on display on Sunday night, and he had his teammates and coaches raving about him after the game.

"Honestly, I didn't know a whole lot about him," admitted new-Laker Marc Gasol, who made his debut in the purple and gold on Sunday. "He's been awesome to watch, awesome to play with. I like his size. He plays down hill and tries to get into the paint and attack. He's a good finisher and I love how tenacious he is on defense. He's a great kid."

Gasol finished with six points and five assists on Sunday. Montrezl Harrell had 19 points and 11 rebounds against his former team, the second straight double-double against the Clippers.

Kyle Kuzma continued to impress in the preseason with 25 points, six rebounds, and four assists in the victory.

Lou Williams led the Clippers with 12 points and Leonard chipped in 11.

The next question for Horton-Tucker moving forward is just how much playing time he well receive once the regular season starts on Dec. 22.

Naturally, Horton-Tucker received this opportunity to play 41 minutes on Sunday because the Lakers were tremendously shorthanded. LeBron James and Anthony Davis rested for the second consecutive game. Wes Matthews, Alex Caruso, Dennis Schroder, Alfonzo McKinnie, Devontae Cacok, and Kostas Antetokounmpo also did not play for the Lakers.

With just a couple other guards on the active roster on Sunday, Horton-Tucker was given his opportunity to shine. However, that will likely not be the case come the regular season. The biggest hurdle for Horton-Tucker moving forward will be sitting patiently for his opportunity, and trying to find a rhythm quickly once those limited minutes do come.

"It's going to make my job difficult for sure," said Lakers' head coach Frank Vogel when asked how he's going to find minutes for Horton-Tucker. "We have a very deep team. No minutes are guaranteed."

Vogel and the Lakers front office will be handed the difficult task of trying to repeat as NBA Champions in 2021, while simultaneously developing young players like Horton-Tucker and Kuzma for the future. Now that the Lakers have seen firsthand what Horton-Tucker is capable of doing on the court given the opportunity, striking a balance between developing chemistry with the starting unit and creating a runway for younger players to take flight will be a chore to say the least. In the meantime, the humble Horton-Tucker is just happy to be out there.

"It's a blessing," Horton-Tucker said of the playing time he got on Sunday night. "Tonight was really my second game actually playing and getting minutes. Being able to get that opportunity was really important for me. If I compete on the defensive end, I think it will give me opportunities to get on the court."

Thankfully for Horton-Tucker, because of the COVID-19 pandemic and the new NBA Health and Safety protocols this season, he might get more opportunities for playing time than he otherwise would during a normal season.

Antetokounmpo and Cacok were examples of that on Sunday night. Both players missed the game with excused absences because of the league's new protocols, as did Clippers point guard Reggie Jackson. With the virus still surging across the country, and the vaccine still not available to the majority of the country, players will most likely have to miss games and quarantine for as little as two weeks if they contract the virus during the season. That means more playing time for others.

Horton-Tucker might not get more than 10 minutes a game once the regular season begins, but with injuries, and health and safety concerns, he certainly will get his opportunities. If Sunday was indicative of what he will do with them once they come, the future looks bright for this sophomore sensation.

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