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Alex Caruso returns to provide spark for Lakers off bench

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Lakers guard Alex Caruso drives to the basket against San Antonio Spurs forward Keldon Johnson in the second quarter on Thursday at Staples Center. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Lakers guard Kentavious Caldwell-Pope missed his third consecutive game with a sprained left ankle, but the team got another body back with Alex Caruso playing against the San Antonio Spurs at Staples Center.

Caruso had missed the previous five games for the Lakers because of the NBA’s health and safety protocols. He didn’t play when the Lakers completed their homestand against the Portland Trail Blazers and then didn’t travel for two games to San Antonio and two more to Memphis.

Despite not playing in almost two weeks, Lakers coach Frank Vogel said Caruso did not have a minutes’ restriction.

Vogel said everyone knows what Caruso “brings to the table” when he plays.

“It’s just great energy, always gives us an uptick off the bench,” Vogel said on a videconference before Thursday night’s game. “The defense, his containment ability, his ability to be in the passing lanes and take charges and just really impact that side of the ball, which gets us out into transition and playing faster. Definitely a lot of things on the court that he brings to the table, but also the intangibles of his leadership, his voice, working our coverages and offensive spacing concepts. Whatever you want to say, he’s just been an invaluable member of our team and we missed him on this trip.”

Caruso made an impact shortly after checking into the game with 4 minutes 35 seconds left in the first quarter. He threw a nice bounce pass to Anthony Davis for a basket.

Then when the Lakers got down by 15 in the first, Caruso followed the lead of LeBron James, who hit a three-pointer.

Caruso made back-to-back three-pointers, and the Lakers were right back in the game. Not a bad start for a player who had missed the previous five games.

Vogel said Caldwell-Pope was “trying his ankle out” before the game, but he wasn’t able to play because he was still experiencing “some soreness” in his ankle.

Caldwell-Pope is sixth on the Lakers in scoring (10.0), second in field-goal percentage (55.6%) among the top 11 Lakers who play regular minutes and first in three-point shooting (52.5%).

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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