Despite their losing record (12-24 after tonight’s game), the Sacramento Kings are a young, energetic team teamed up with a handful of veterans. It’s a group filled with a lot of talent, and today, they gave the Lakers everything they had, forcing the home team to work until the very end. Seven Kings’ players scored in double figures and they played a clean game, giving away the ball on only five occasions. But it wasn’t enough.
The Lakers led by 20 points with 11:45 minutes left in the final quarter, but a slew of turnovers and one empty possession after another by the reserves, fueled an 11-5 point run by the Kings who refused to let up. With 7:44 minutes on the clock and the huge lead down to just nine points, the starters returned to the floor to finish, led by the Masked Mamba.
The Lakers’ big three were, as usual, huge, but they got help from Derek Fisher and Metta World Peace down the stretch. Both hit key shots to make up for the Kings’ early fourth quarter run.
Kobe Bryant – The Masked Mamba strikes again! 38 points on 13-24 from the field, 11-14 from the charity stripe, eight rebounds, three assists and a steal. Whatever that mask is doing, it hasn’t hindered Bryant’s abilities one bit. He may, by his own admission, be drinking his own sweat because of the mask, but his fadeaway, for one, doesn’t seem to mind. By halftime, Bryant had already scored 20 points, an indication that none of it –the mask, his neck pain, his broken nose – mattered to his game. He dribbled around Kings on the baseline to give himself room for a reserve layup, he received a pass with the shot clock winding down and still managed to hit the corner three pointer late in the fourth to give the Lakers a 108-97 lead.
Awesome Twosome – 34 points on 14-24, 22 rebounds, six assists and four blocks – that’s what 14 feet of talent and skill can deliver in every game for the Lakers (provided the two are never separated, that is). Andrew Bynum, with his 23rd double-double of the season, was, as he’s been all year, quite the presence on the floor. He’s agile, able to quickly respond on the defensive end with a block or rebound. He’s stronger and more confident on that knee, often being the first down the court, which is no wonder why he’s on the receiving end of so many lobs. He converted on a pretty no look lob from Pau Gasol tonight, which ended in a nice reverse dunk. He’s also quicker to react to the double team, passing out of one tonight, which resulted in a three from Andrew Goudelock in the second quarter.
Pau Gasol – Ever the steady hand, Mr. Consistency dropped 15 points on 6-11, grabbed seven rebounds, handed out four assists and blocked a shot. With Bryant scoring in bunches and Bynum on his way, Gasol has picked up the last third of the scoring responsibility. He maybe not always have to score 20-30 points in a game, but he’s capable of it and his contributions elsewhere are just as valuable. Because of his ability to run plays and run the occasional break, Gasol will always be the point guard trapped in a power forward’s body, which isn’t the worst thing to be.
The OTHER Starters – With so much credit going to the Lakers’ Big Three, the team’s two other starters rarely get any recognition. Tonight, however, they each came through when needed the most. After the starters came back into the game to try and remedy the almost-lost lead, Derek Fisher hit back-to-back jumpers to take the lead to 11. He finished with six points on 3-3, four rebounds, seven assists to lead the game and a block. A few possessions later, with the lead down to five points, Metta World Peace hit a three to take it back up to eight points. MWP finished with 15 points on 5-11, four rebounds, three assists and a steal.
Goudelock and Barnes – The Laker reserves had 18 first-half points, all due to Matt Barnes and Andrew Goudelock. It can’t be said enough how Barnes infuses energy on the court when he subs in. He lurks when shots go up and no defenders seem to take note of his position until he’s swiping an offensive rebound away from them and going up for a second chance shot. Tonight he had 10 points on 4-9, hitting 2-3 from beyond the arc.
And the Mini Mamba chipped in nine points of his own, scoring on his signature floaters, a couple of mid-range jumpers and a three. This kid is as confident as rookies come.
Defensive Efforts in the Third Quarter – After allowing the Kings to score 58 points on 49% shooting in the first half, the Lakers tightened their defensive efforts in the third, allowing on 16 points on 20% shooting. If only they’d maintained that for another 12 minutes.
Free throws – the Lakers shot 26 free throws and converted on 21. The Kings, meanwhile, attempted just nine free throws and scored on eight. With the Lakers doing the bulk of their scoring inside, it gave them numerous opportunities to get to the line, and with 52 points in the paint, the 26 attempts were like a bonus. Thankfully tonight, they took advantage.
Offensive rebounds given up – The Kings are the best offensive rebounding team in the league, and tonight the Lakers allowed 13 offensive boards. Luckily, Sacramento was unable to convert those rebounds into second chance points, only scoring 10.
Defense in the 4th Quarter – To go from a 20-point lead down to as little as five midway through the final quarter is never a good thing. After playing such an excellent quarter defensively in the third, the Lakers just let loose (too loose) in the final quarter. They had 5 of their 13 turnovers in the fourth quarter.
Next up on the schedule is the much-anticipated game against the Miami Heat on Sunday afternoon. If the Lakers want any chance of winning that contest, their efforts have to stay more consistent throughout the 48 minutes. These lapses in effort only do more harm than good, and with the way the Heat manhandled them in their last meeting, the Lakers can’t afford to put in anything but their best.