SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Feeling healthy and free of the legal burden that resulted in a 25-day sentence for a probation violation earlier this season, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope tied his career high with eight 3-pointers made and nearly became only the second Los Angeles Lakers player to make nine 3s in a game.
Caldwell-Pope scored a season-high 34 points, grabbed seven rebounds and hit 8 of 14 3-pointers in a 113-108 victory over the Kings on Saturday. Caldwell-Pope became the eighth Lakers player to hit eight treys in a game. Kobe Bryant is the only Laker to make more than eight, sinking nine 3s on three different occasions and a franchise-record 12 in another game, in 2007.
“I should’ve tried to shoot another one,” Caldwell-Pope cracked when told that only Bryant had made nine or more 3s in franchise history.
Caldwell-Pope — who signed a one-year, $18-million deal with the Lakers in free agency — is playing his best basketball as a Laker. And the guard admits that he can play with a clear mind after serving a 25-day sentence for a probation violation that stemmed from his March arrest for suspicion of DUI in Michigan.
Caldwell-Pope was allowed to play in home games and practice during the sentence, which he served at the Seal Beach Police Department Detention Center. And while Caldwell-Pope completed that sentence in early January — he missed four games outside of California — it has taken the guard some time to hit his stride with the Lakers.
Mentally, he was feeling the weight of his legal problems, he said. Once that was behind him, Caldwell-Pope averaged 16.8 points during a five-game stretch, before injuring his Achilles tendon in a game at the Oklahoma City Thunder on Jan. 17. His play was inconsistent upon his return from the injury, which sidelined him for two games.
But in his past six games, Caldwell-Pope has averaged 17.6 points and 7.5 rebounds while sinking 20-of-37 (54 percent) from behind the 3-point arc.
“I mean it was kind of hard with that situation I had, but now that’s behind me,” Caldwell-Pope said. “I can focus on just one thing — that’s basketball. It’s been good just to be able to get my work when I need it and just be ready for games.”
Lakers coach Luke Walton said Caldwell-Pope’s routine of putting in extra work in the gym was interrupted by the 25-day sentence, which took its toll on his game and mind. Then the Achilles injury had him spending time in the training room. So, it hasn’t been until recently that Caldwell-Pope has been able to get back to working on his game as he would like.
The guard, who has made two or more 3-pointers in five of his past six games, drilled 3 of 4 treys in the first quarter at Sacramento. He was red hot in the third quarter, when he buried 5-of-8 from behind the arc and scored 17 points to help the Lakers erase a 10-point deficit with a 33-16 run that gave them a seven-point lead late in the quarter.
“He’s had a tough run. I thought he was playing really well early in the season and then had to deal with some legal stuff, which is tough for anyone. And then when he came back after that, he was great,” Walton said, explaining why Caldwell-Pope has been in a groove for the past six games. “He was shooting the ball well, scoring, and then he got hurt. And he has had to find his rhythm again.”
“Give him credit, he has done a really nice job of putting in extra work too,” Walton added. “We are such a better team when he is feeling confident and that shot is going for him. … Unfortunately, what he has gone through, whether the injury or legal stuff, it wasn’t always him being able to get that work in. Now that he is coming back from this injury, he is getting there and getting shots in every day before practice and getting into a really nice rhythm of playing basketball.”
Caldwell-Pope did foul Bogdan Bogdanovic to set up a rare four-point play that allowed the Kings to cut the Lakers’ lead to 109-108 with 12.7 seconds left in Saturday’s contest. But former Kings point guard Isaiah Thomas (17 points) sank six free throws in the quarter to help the Lakers survive without rookie point guard Lonzo Ball, who was held out of the second of a back-to-back set after just returning from a 15-game absence with a sprained left MCL.
Caldwell-Pope hopes to remain hot and continue to show the Lakers what he can do when he is healthy and playing with a clear mind.
“It kind of takes you out of a rhythm,” Caldwell-Pope said of the injury and legal issue. “You’ve got the same rhythm every day just to keep you going. So once that rhythm is broken, it’s kind of hard to get back with it when you got a lot of things going on.”
“I built my career in the league playing defense and making shots,” he added, “and also making plays when I needed to. That’s kind of my game and how I built my career.”