Despite some major shooting woes in the first quarter, the Lakers were able to pick up a gritty win over the Sacramento Kings. Led by a heroic fourth-quarter effort from LeBron James, the purple and gold were able to fend off numerous runs from the Kings down the stretch.
The win moves the Lakers to a Western Conference best 10-2 heading into another showdown on Sunday night against the Atlanta Hawks. The Hawks are just 4-7 in the Eastern Conference and are at least two or three years away from seriously contending a playoff spot. A loss at home to the Hawks would be considered inexcusable for the surging Lakers.
Final Score & Result
Lakers win, 99-97
The Good From the Lakers’ Win Over the Kings
LeBron James’ Fourth Quarter Heroics
James had a strong game from start to finish, however, he came alive in the fourth quarter and helped will the Lakers to a hard-fought win over the Kings. Completely taking over and imposing his will on the Kings down the stretch, LeBron at one point scored seven consecutive points during the fourth quarter when the rest of the Laker offense went quiet. James would go on to finish the game with 29 points, 4 rebounds, 11 assists, and 3 steals.
While it didn’t happen in the fourth quarter, James also posted the highlight of the game when he caught a vicious body on Nemanja Bjelica. Despite being in his 17th season and repeatedly having his legs brought into question, James has repeatedly proved time and time again that he is still one of, if not the best player in the league.
Kuzma played a huge role in forcing the Kings away from their defensive gameplan and sparking a struggling offense. After knocking down a few big three-pointers early in the second quarter and forcing the Kings to chase him off the perimeter, Kuzma opened up interior driving lanes that he would continue to take advantage of. On a night when LeBron James and Anthony Davis didn’t have their best stuff, Kuzma’s energy and scoring were exactly what the doctor ordered.
Kuzma’s hot hand would carry through the rest of the game as the would function as the go-to scoring threat whenever he saw the court. Kuzma finished the night with 13 points & five rebounds on 4 of 9 shooting.
The Lakers’ Second Quarter Run
Down big halfway through the second quarter, the Lakers rattled off an impressive 14-0 run to pull themselves back into the game. Sparked by strong play from bench players like Kyle Kuzma and Dwight Howard, the Lakers finally started making defensive stops, knocking down open looks and showed some much-needed signs of life heading into the half.
The run would prove to be a turning point in the game as the Lakers seemed to finally figure out the Kings’ three-point heavy assault. After getting torched in the first quarter, they would not allow more than 25 points in the second, third, or fourth quarter.
Free Throw Shooting
To say the Lakers dominated the free throw battle would be an understatement. Only allowing the Kings to go to the line nine times while going there 22 times themselves, the Lakers took advantage of their size advantage and repeatedly. Not only did they attempt 22 free throws but they knocked down 20, a vast improvement from their season average of 74%.
Despite drawing the start in place of the injured Avery Bradley, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope wasn’t able to do much with his opportunity to start. The Lakers fell into an early hole with Caldwell-Pope on the floor and he was relatively ineffective in the early going.
However, Caldwell-Pope would turn things around in the fourth quarter and played a major role in assisting James down the stretch. Coming up with numerous big plays and baskets to keep the Kings at bay, Caldwell-Pope seemed to quiet a number of his haters by coming to life when it mattered most.
The Bad From the Lakers’ Win Over the Kings
First Half Defense
The Kings came out in the first half shooting the cover off the ball and the Lakers struggled mightily to run them off the three-point line and disrupt their rhythm. Missing DeAaron Fox and Marvin Bagley Jr., the Kings featured a relatively one-dimensional offense (kick the ball out beyond the arc for three-pointers) that the Lakers took far too long to figure out. They finally seemed to crack the code towards the end of the second quarter, however, allowing a banged-up Kings team to torch them for the better part of a half is not something one of the NBA’s best defenses should be doing.
Avery Bradley’s presence was missed in the starting lineup as while Kentavious Caldwell-Pope played some solid defense at the point of attack, the Lakers struggled to create turnovers and generate much pressure going the other way. With a 1-2 week timeline before being re-evaluated, expect Vogel to continue experimenting with lineups to find something that holds the team over.
The Lakers’ offense was visibly more stagnant tonight as they tried to figure out the new rotations without Avery Bradley in the mix. As a result, the team ruined their streak of consecutive 30 assist games and struggled to convert open looks from behind the three-point line. The Lakers weren’t all that bad in this department, however, compared to their previous outings, this showing was far from ideal against such a banged-up opponent.
The Ugly From the Lakers’ Win Over the Kings
First Quarter Shooting
While they were able to at least knock a few deep balls later in the quarter to salvage an absolute disaster, the Lakers fell into an early hole largely due to their inability to knock down wide-open looks. The Kings opted to sag entirely off the perimeter for anyone not named Danny Green and dared the Lakers to knock down open deep balls. The gameplan worked well for the Kings as the Lakers only shot 6 of 22 in the first quarter for a measly 28% – including 3 of 13 from downtown.