The Los Angeles Lakers defeated the Sacramento Kings Friday night, 98-94, in a mostly sloppy game by both teams that went back and forth over the last three periods and was not decided until the final seconds.
The Lakers have won three games in a row for the first time since November, and with the victory, the team is all but assured of finishing the season with the third-worst record in the league and going into the lottery next month with a 46.9 percent chance of retaining their lottery pick. The Lakers will hope they can repeat their magic from two years ago when they finished with the fourth-worst record but ended up with the second pick in the draft.
It was the first opportunity for Lakers fans to see the Kings play without superstar DeMarcus Cousins, who was traded at the All-Star break. They showcased surprising young talent led by center Willie Cauley-Stein who has excelled in the middle since Cousins’ departure; the recent rookie-of-the-month in sharpshooting Buddy Hield; and former Kentucky Wildcat Skal Labissiere, who looks like one of the best young players in the league.
Jordan Clarkson had 10 points and five assists in the first half, while Larry Nance, Jr. was everywhere on defense and had seven rebounds in the first two periods as the Lakers trailed by a point at the half.
Here are three takeaways from the game.
1. Julius Randle Was Dominant
Randle had one of those dominant games that he unwraps from time to time that makes it impossible to give up on him despite his frequent lapses. Perhaps because his former college coach John Calipari was in the stands, he was particularly animated on both ends of the court and kept the game close when no one else was scoring.
Randle played 34 minutes and finished with 25 points on 10-of-14 from the field. He made 5-of-7 free throws to go along with six rebounds and two assists. When Randle is engaged, he can be a beast, and Friday night was one of those games. Of course, there is no way to anticipate what we will see from him in the next contest, but against the Kings, he was the team’s best player.
2. D’Angelo Russell Returned to Action After Missing the Last Game
Russell missed the big win over the Spurs in the team’s last game due to minor soreness in his knee. He returned Friday night and had a mostly quiet performance, although he scored a couple of key baskets late in the fourth quarter that helped secure the victory.
For the game, Russell played 33 minutes and finished with 13 points on 4-for-10 from the field and 2-for-5 from three-point range. He also chipped in five rebounds and five assists. However, he continues to commit too many turnovers, four in this contest. Russell had a decent game but was not a standout.
3. Once Again, the Second Unit Kept the Lakers in the Game
The Lakers first unit started the game with little energy, and the Lakers were down by 13 points at the end of the first quarter. It looked like the Lakers might be in for a long and disappointing night.
Enter Tarik Black, Tyler Ennis, Thomas Robinson, and Corey Brewer, who were joined by Jordan Clarkson, and they brought the team back at the start of the second quarter. The game then remained close to the very end when the Lakers hung on to win.
The second unit did not shoot especially well, but what they do that makes them successful of late is that they turn up the defensive intensity and that leads to easier transition points. The Lakers starters often play “soft,” and the team seems to take on a whole new persona when Robinson enters the game. This has been going on for a while since the coaching staff discovered Robinson again sitting at the end of the bench.
Brewer has not gotten much attention since joining the Lakers at the All-Star break, but he is a good defender and a high-intensity player who pushes the ball. Ennis did not match his last performance when he scored a career-high 19 points, but he still ran the offense efficiently and with confidence. Black was Black, meaning he played with good energy and pounded the boards.