LeBron James Is Hurt. Step Forward, Kyle Kuzma.

LOS ANGELES — At the midpoint of the N.B.A. season, Kyle Kuzma was daydreaming about something the Lakers have yet to unveil: a small-ball lineup with LeBron James manning the center position. The Lakers already generate the third-most pace in the league using a traditional lineup, so imagine the possibilities.

“That small-ball lineup is going to be huge for us,” Kuzma told reporters on Wednesday morning, “especially in the playoffs when everybody’s going to be going small.”

Kuzma, a second-year forward, was making two assumptions: first, that the Lakers will make the playoffs, and second, that they will have enough time to experiment with the lineup and refine it ahead of a hypothetical trip to the postseason. Not to stomp all over Kuzma’s enthusiasm, but neither of those are guarantees given the way their hodgepodge season has gone.

Coach Luke Walton, to his credit, is taking a more pragmatic approach. Though he entered the season hoping to unleash a smaller lineup that could cause mismatch problems, the Lakers do not have time to mess around with experiments, he said, not right now, not after their recent struggles, not with their ongoing rash of injuries and absences.

“It’s going to get tougher to do,” Walton said, adding: “As the season gets further and further down the road, those ‘Hey, let’s try this during the game’ — it’s going to be less and less, because we’re in a pretty nasty fight for who gets in and who’s not in. So it will be more about what we’re good at, and try to get better and better at that.”

Every team copes with injuries of varying magnitudes, but the Lakers have already dealt with their share. On Wednesday night, LeBron James — no longer indestructible, apparently — missed his eighth straight game with a strained left groin, but he looked upbeat on the home bench at Staples Center during his team’s 113-100 victory against the Detroit Pistons.

“I thought our team showed a lot of growth from, however you want to call it, the post-LeBron injury,” said Walton, whose team improved to 23-19.

An important caveat: The Pistons, who have lost 15 of their last 19 games, are not playing stellar basketball. But the LeBron-free Lakers are beginning to look more cohesive and more confident than they did in the days after they lost him to his injury on Dec. 25. They have won two straight, with James’s return still up in the air. Walton said that James would not make the trip with the Lakers for their game against the Utah Jazz on Friday, when James is scheduled to be re-evaluated by the team’s medical staff in Los Angeles.

James’s absence — however long it lasts — may not wind up being the worst thing for the Lakers. His workload over the past decade-plus has been immense, with most of his seasons extending through the N.B.A. finals. He just turned 34. Assuming he returns at full strength, without complications, James could probably benefit from a midseason break.

More important, perhaps, has been the opportunity for the team’s lesser lights to operate on their own. The training wheels are off. For a while, it looked bleak. The Lakers lost five of their first six games without James, and it got bad enough that Kobe Bryant logged onto Twitter to defend Walton from an angry mob.

“Relax,” Bryant, one the franchise’s most iconic figures, wrote in a post on his account. “Entire squad is damn near out.”

At the time, the Lakers were without James, Kuzma and Rajon Rondo. Rondo could miss another two to three weeks after undergoing surgery on his right hand (for the second time this season), but Kuzma, who was sidelined for two games with a back contusion, has since returned.

On Monday, with the rust from his injury still apparent, Kuzma shot 4 of 20 from the field in a win against the Dallas Mavericks. On Tuesday, an off day for the Lakers, he went to the practice facility and launched 500 shots, Walton said. On Wednesday, Kuzma scored a career-high 41 points in just 29 minutes while shooting 16 of 24 from the field.

“If you would have told me two years ago, when I was in college, that I would score 40 for the Lakers, I probably wouldn’t have believed you,” Kuzma said. “Kind of crazy.”

But this is his reality at age 23, and Walton said he was also pleased with the aggressive play of Lonzo Ball and Brandon Ingram, who are both 21. They are learning as they go, and their curriculum has been more advanced in recent days.

At the same time, the Lakers have emerged as a surprisingly respectable defensive team. Entering Thursday, they ranked eighth in the league in overall defensive rating.

Asked what he knew about his team at this stage of the season, Walton said: “We know that when we’re at our best, we’re a really good team. We know that we’re a team that can hang our hat on playing defense and getting stops. We’re good when we get out and run. LeBron James is really good.”

But really, Walton said, there are probably more unknowns than knowns with this group. On only a handful of occasions has he had close to a full roster at his disposal. The rest of the league will be interested to see what the Lakers look like when that happens.

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