The Los Angeles Lakers made it close against the Sacramento Kings Tuesday night but fell a point short in the final seconds and lost, 97-96. The team played with little energy and no sense of urgency for the first three quarters before the second unit nearly pulled it out. However, the biggest difference between the two teams was that the Kings had DeMarcus Cousins and the Lakers did not. Cousins was unstoppable all night, finishing with 40 points, 12 rebounds, and eight assists.
Here are the three biggest takeaways from the close loss.
1. Any playoff team that does not try to trade for Lou Williams is crazy
It is no secret that Lou Williams is the Laker most likely to be dealt by the upcoming NBA trade deadline, despite the fact he has been the team’s best player all year. His stellar performance against the Kings was another example of why any playoff team should try to acquire him. Williams scored 29 points, including 19 to go along with four assists in the fourth quarter alone. He single-handedly put the Lakers in a position to win; something he has been doing all season consistently.
Williams would be an asset on any playoff team, and if he is traded, it will be interesting to see what he generates in return. If by some chance, he remains with the Lakers for the rest of the season, he is likely to provide many more great performances like the one he showed against the Kings.
2. Luke Walton did not trust D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle to play in the fourth quarter
Luke Walton proved again that he is still more interested in winning games than going all-in on developing the young core. How else can you explain the fact that with more than two-thirds of the season over, two cornerstones of the franchises’ future, D’Angelo Russell and Julius Randle, played only 23 and 21 minutes, respectively, and not at all in the fourth quarter? Even Ingram, who had not scored a basket since the first quarter and missed three of his four free throws.
Russell had five turnovers against the Kings, scored eight points on 3-of-9 shooting, and never seemed fully engaged. Instead of showing marked improvement, as was expected, he has taken a step backward this year which is starting to become cause for concern.
Randle scored 11 points and had seven rebounds against the Kings, but it was not enough to satisfy Walton who shows more confidence in Larry Nance, Jr. in the fourth quarter of close games.
It made no sense not to play Russell and Randle more minutes against the Kings. If they are untouchable, cornerstones of the future for the Lakers, Walton has a funny way of showing it.
3. Lakers nearly won because they finally started playing defense
The Lakers played from behind through three quarters because they did not play defense. It was not until the fourth quarter, when they caught and passed the Kings temporarily, that they locked down on the defensive end of the court which led to easier scores.
The statistics show that despite Walton’s emphasis on defense all year, the Lakers remain one of the worst defensive teams in the league. The Lakers out-rebounded the Kings 38-36, scored more baskets overall and won the battle from three-point land 12-7, but they couldn’t defend without fouling. Thus, the Kings made 18 free throws to the Lakers 8, which was the difference in the game.
Until the Lakers learn to get stops and play defense without committing fouls, their wins will be few and far between. And it wouldn’t hurt if the Lakers had a superstar like Cousins on their roster.