The Los Angeles Lakers ended their Grammy road trip by winning two of their last three games, with impressive road victories against the New York Knicks and Milwaukee Bucks. Upon returning to Staples Center for a few well-deserved days off, the Lakers returned back to action on Tuesday night, in the first of back-to-back games before All-Star weekend.
The first of the consecutive games pitted them against their Pacific Division counterparts, the Sacramento Kings. Both team split their first two matchups this season, with both coming at the new Golden 1 Center.
Head coach Luke Walton’s team is currently in the bottom three in NBA standings, but he has his team playing at a higher level than their midseason slump. The youth movement continued on into Tuesday, as Walton started the game with D’Angelo Russell, Nick Young, Brandon Ingram, Julius Randle and Tarik Black.
Kings Head coach Dave Joerger countered with Darren Collision, Ben McLemore, Arron Afflalo, DeMarcus Cousins and Kosta Koufos.
First Quarter: The defensive matchup to watch for the evening resided in Black and his effort to contain Cousins. Upon making one of two free throws on a foul from Black, Cousins capitalized on a lazy pass from Russell with an assist to Collison.
Both Lakers and Kings fan won’t forget the interaction last meeting between Cousins and Randle, as the pair of Kentucky alumni got into some friendly trash talk. With Cousins sagging off him, Randle was able to drain a three-pointer to give the Lakers a quick 6-3 lead.
However, Black would ultimately suffer from two quick personal fouls, which brought forth Timofey Mozgov for the first time in three games. Cousins continued to capitalize on the physical play, as the Lakers were out of fuels with over six minutes remaining in the first quarter.
While Cousins was drawing a lot of attention, the ball distribution for the Kings went from the paint out. He fed McLemore for a wide-open three, giving them a 14-10 lead. While Cousins drew four fouls, he also had two early turnovers.
The three-point shooting for the Lakers was on early once again, as Russell and Young both knocked down threes to cut the lead to 19-18.
The offense for the Lakers started off on the wrong note, as the team was having a tough time finding their cutters off pick and rolls. Russell had three early turnovers while trying to create for his teammates, often forcing it through the hole.
Although both teams were playing sloppy throughout the quarter, the Kings took a 29-23 lead into the second quarter. Cousins led the way, with 12 points in the first quarter on 4-for-7 shooting.
Matt Barnes came off the bench and was able to make an immediate impact for the Kings, with a block, steal and assist all in his first minute into the game. He received an open dunk on a backdoor cut, which the Lakers fell asleep on.
The Lakers sloppy ball handling surely was frustrating, as the Kings have a reputation for reaching in quite a lot. Their hands were active early on, with a lot of deflections that led to seven Lakers turnovers and four Kings steals.
Nance Jr. also got active on the defensive end, reading a screen play against Anthony Toliver. After stripping the ball, he fed Jordan Clarkson for an open dunk, cutting the lead to 31-27.
Sixth man Lou Williams, who has been the center of recent trade rumors, made his presence felt early int eh second quarter.
He used a brilliant Nance Jr. off-ball screen for an easy layup and drew a foul on a three-point attempt per usual. He converted all three free throw attempts while talking a little trash along with the bench of the Kings.
Upon the Lakers gaining a 36-33 lead, the Kings responded with an 8-0 run, giving them a 41-36 lead. Collison was having his way with Russell early on, using his speed and deception to get around Collison constantly. He flared out to the corner for a three while Russell was asleep and was able to blow by him for an easy layup, which he got fouled on.
Walton was clearly upset with the defensive effort thus far, calling a timeout with a look of disgust on his face. While the Lakers were shooting 36 percent from the field, they were allowing the Kings to make 17 of their 35 shots (48.6 percent).
With two minutes remaining in the half, the Lakers had four players with five points, which was tied for the team lead. The Lakers went scoreless for about a three-minute stretch before Randle knocked down a mid-range jump shot over Cousins to change the momentum.
Randle came up with a steal the next possession and led the fast break, feeding Young in the corner for a three. The Kings would come up empty on their final possession of the half, as they took a 43-41 lead into halftime.
At the half, Randle led the Lakers in scoring with seven points and three rebounds. Ingram also had a great all-around first half, with five points, two rebounds, and three assists.
The Kings opened the third quarter with consecutive threes, courtesy of Cousins and McLemore, while Russell responded for the Lakers with a bucket inside the paint and a three-pointer of his own.
Cousins was clearly attempting to capitalize on the mismatch, scoring on any defender in his way. With Randle sagging off, the three-time All-Star comfortably knocked down a mid-range jumper to give them a 55-48 lead. However, Randle answered back with a post up, turn around jump hook with his left hand. Although the Lakers were struggling on their defensive rotations, they were hustling all over the court.
Young, who is set to compete in the three-point shootout this weekend, was struggling from the field on Tuesday. He was 3-for-9 from the field, including 3-for-8 on three-point attempts. However, the charismatic shooting guard never loses confidence in his shot, burying a contested three-pointer on the wing.
The Kings began to slowly increase their lead, as the Lakers weren’t knocking down the usual shots fans were accustomed to seeing. The team missed a lot of easy baskets around the rim while shooting 36.1 percent from the field. While the Lakers were lucky to be within single digits, the Kings 66-57 lead seemed much more than that. The Lakers relied heavily on the second unit to decrease the Kings lead.
Williams knocked down a deep three with the shot clock down, the first bucket after a cold spell. Nance Jr. then contested the following shot and tipped it to Williams for an open layup. The sixth-man then returned the favor to his big man, as he hit Nance Jr. on a slipped screen for a floater.
With a strong run to end the quarter, the Lakers headed into the fourth quarter down by only six points, as the Kings held a 70-64 lead.
The Lakers strong end to the third quarter would be for naught, as the Kings opened the fourth quarter on a 7-0 run. Cousins drew a three-point play, which was followed by two buckets in the paint for Willie Cauley-Stein.
In order for Los Angeles to make it back into the game, they would need to make a concerted effort on defense. Upon getting a few stops, Williams really got hot on the offensive end, leading the Lakers on a comeback attempt.
The Lakers would go on to make seven consecutive field goal attempts, with four of them coming from Williams. Not only did he knock down another three-pointer, but he hit three shots around the paint over the feisty Kings defenders.
With another run, the Lakers brought the lead down to four points, as the Kings held an 83-79 advantage with a little less than six minutes remaining in the game. The Kings would not crumble under the pressure, with a concerted effort to get the open shot and not rush anything.
Cousins orchestrated the offense from the post, with a series of cuts and rotations to wind down the clock. With four minutes remaining, they held a 88-81 lead. While the Lakers tried to inch back in, their offensive executions drained the shot clock, as they were forced into many unfavorable shots. That didn’t deter Williams from exploiting his mismatch, as it seemed like he held the offensive burden throughout the game.
Williams scored another layup, upon blowing past Cousins in the paint. On the next play, the Lakers double-teamed Collison into the corner and he threw a high pass which was deflected by Clarkson. The speedster then took the ball and sprinted down the court for a breakaway dunk, cutting the lead to 91-87. Every time it seemed like the game was out of reach, Walton’s squad produced with their backs against the wall.
Although that is a strong quality to have moving forward, Walton certainly would have preferred for them to be producing from the get go. The handful of missed open opportunities surely put a damper on their chances, but it didn’t discourage them from trying.
Black closed out on Cousins phenomenally the next play, which resulted in an airball and turnover. The following play down, Black set a strong screen on Collison and set up Williams for the game-tying three-pointer.
Cousins got Black to foul out on a questionable call, sinking two free throws to give them a 93-91 lead. Williams and Nance Jr. certainly had a connection on offense, which is certainly something they can build off moving forward. Nance Jr. was on the end of another assist from Williams, with another game-tying floater.
The Kings’ captain was sent once again to the line, nailing the first free throw. Although he did miss the second, Barnes secured another offensive rebound, which led to two points. Williams brought the ball down the court slowly, trailing by three.
With a quick hesitation, he sent Collison to the ground and nailed a three-pointer to once again tie the game. However, the Lakers were unable to stop the center of the Kings, who was fouled intentionally in the paint to avoid an easy basket. He nailed one free throw and missed the second, as Los Angeles scrambled for the rebound.
Williams them led the ball down the court and pulled up for the game-winning shot, but came up short on the final attempt. The Kings secured a thrilling 97-96 victory, for a 2-1 season series lead.
Williams led the Lakers in scoring with 29 points (19 in the fourth quarter) while posting five assists and two steals. Cousins led the Kings with 40 points, 12 rebounds, eight assists and two steals.