Noah Graham-NBAE via Getty Images

When the Los Angeles Lakers boarded their charter flight on Friday it was with the expectation LeBron James would be on the court for his second game since returning from a groin strain. The moment would provide an opportunity for revenge of sorts as they were set to play at Oracle Arena, where James was injured.

But he was a late scratch due to soreness, and the young Lakers were left to pick up the slack against the two-time defending champions. The Golden State Warriors jumped out to a 14-point lead, only to watch it evaporate.

The Lakers pulled ahead by 10 points in the third quarter, which didn’t hold in a 115-101 loss. While they used a run to take the lead, the Warriors responded with one of their own. Included in that was an emphatic dunk DeMarcus Cousins threw down on Kyle Kuzma in what was a three-point play.

“I thought I did (have a chance to get set in time),” Kuzma said of the sequence. “It’s going to happen. When you play defense, you get dunked on sometimes. I got a tip-dunk on him, too. That counts.”

While Kuzma’s offensive repertoire has gained him notoriety, the second-year forward has regularly drawn criticism on defense. Lakers head coach Luke Walton has been among Kuzma’s supporters, and delivered more praise for the effort he saw.

“I love it. I absolutely love it. Everyone in the NBA should get dunked on,” Walton said.

“If you’re really playing to win, as good as the athletes are in this league, when you’re rotating over, he knew he was late but he still sacrificed his body and tried to get in there for a stop. He didn’t get outside the restricted area but that’s the mentality and attitude we want.”

The Warriors went on to outscore the Lakers, 40-20, after Cousins’ dunk. “They found some juice,” Kuzma said. “They were looking at anybody just to find it. Credit to him, he made some plays, hit some shots and got rebounds.”

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