Kentavious Caldwell-Pope ignores criticism to come up clutch for Lakers against Kings

Kentavious Caldwell-Pope has taken a lot of heat from Lakers fans this season. On Friday, he tuned it out to draw rave reviews from LeBron James, Frank Vogel and Anthony Davis for his performance against the Kings.

LOS ANGELES — Just two days ago, criticism of Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was so prevalent that Lakers center Dwight Howard felt the need to stick up for his teammate on Instagram. At least once this year, things have gotten literally loud enough that there were noticeable boos for Caldwell-Pope at a Lakers home game. Even Lakers head coach Frank Vogel acknowledged on Friday night that he’s seen the criticism of Caldwell-Pope, so to say the guard hasn’t exactly been a fan favorite would be an understatement.

But against the Sacramento Kings down the stretch, none of it mattered. Caldwell-Pope hit shot after shot to rack up 12 points in the fourth quarter — finishing with 16 overall — while also playing critical defense down the stretch to help the Lakers escape with a 99-97 victory. Perhaps even more unbelievable than that storybook turnaround was Caldwell-Pope’s claim that he hadn’t noticed any of the scrutiny until Howard mentioned it to him.

“That’s one thing I can’t worry about,” Caldwell-Pope said, before adding that such critiques don’t matter to him anyway.

“If I have a good game it’s going to be the same fans cheering me.”

On Friday evening that proved to be the case, and Caldwell-Pope credited his turnaround to “praying a lot” and starting to get his confidence back by demanding to take — and later making — a technical free throw earlier in the game so that he could see the ball go through the net. Although how much Caldwell-Pope actually had to improve upon in the first place was a point of contention for Vogel after the game.

“I would say the season has not really been up and down. I think his scoring has been up and down,” Vogel said. “He’s one of the guys on our team that brings the highest level of energy. One of his talents is how hard he plays. When you have a guy that plays as hard as he does, it impacts the energy on the floor.

“He’s an excellent defender. We’re the No. 1 defense in the league, and he’s a big part of that. So, I don’t feel like he’s really had an up-and-down type of season,” Vogel continued. “He’s been really consistent with his energy and with his defense, and the shot has come and gone a little bit, but it was there for us tonight.”