As the headline above alluded to, things went VERY wrong for the Los Angeles Lakers on Monday night in Sacramento. The Kings won by 24 in a game that was never truly close in the second half, so the question begs asking:
What was the Lakers’ biggest issue against the Kings?
Glad you asked, hypothetical straw man serving as a narrative device to move this piece along. The short answer? Defense.
If Ron Burgundy was impressed by his dog Baxter eating a whole wheel of cheese and pooping in the fridge, he would have blown away by the almost impressive horrificness of the Lakers’ defense against Sacramento. Especially in the third quarter, when the Lakers might have only been marginally less effective had they just left the court to go pull a very rude prank in the Golden One Center’s kitchens.
The Lakers allowed the Kings to produce an offensive rating of 113.5 (meaning they would have scored 113.5 points per 100 possessions) for the game. In addition to serving as what would be the third-most efficient offense in the NBA, it was only marginally worse than the 29th-ranked 109.8 the Lakers are allowing on the year.
In the third quarter, the Lakers took their suckitude defensively to a whole ‘nother level. The team allowed the Kings to score at a rate that would equal 149.5 (!!!) points per 100 possessions. For comparison’s sake, the league-best Toronto Raptors are scoring 114.5 points per 100 possessions.
Basically, the Lakers turned the Kings’ 16th-ranked offense into an unstoppable, nuke-flinging Death Star for 12 straight minutes while using a slingshot to combat it.
That doesn’t sound fun to watch at all! So, why was the Lakers’ defense so atrocious in that period?
Since just answering “yes” here would probably get me fired, I forced myself to go back and re-watch the Kings’ 20 shots in the period. I’d say “you’re welcome,” but you shouldn’t really be thanking me unless you like pain OR aren’t a Lakers fan. It was about as fun as the season following that infamous Sports Illustrated cover promising the same.
The one thing that stood out as the biggest problem for the Lakers (both figuratively and literally) was DeMarcus Cousins. The hulking big man showed the best parts of his game in the third period, and other than two fastbreak baskets, Cousins played a part in every single field goal the Kings’ scored in that decisive quarter.
Cousins used his bulk to knock the Lakers around with or without the ball and while setting screens, and picked them apart with his passing as well while the Lakers looked around at each other in confusion over who was supposed to be guarding who, or making certain rotations on defense:
Watching that, it’s not easy to think the numbers about the Kings’ effectiveness in the period might be understating things. That’s not wrong.
During the 10 minutes and 47 seconds Cousins was on the floor in the third period, Sacramento posted an insane offensive rating of 176.6, and the big man himself scored 16 of his 31 points.
The whole thing resulted in this ridiculous team shot chart for the third:
So... after losing seven games in a row now, is it fair to ask if all of the Lakers’ early season success was a mirage?
Yes and no. The Lakers had everything going right for them at the beginning of the year. The team was healthy, no one had any tape on how their young roster would play without Kobe Bryant and Byron Scott, and with Luke Walton, and they got off to a really fun start.
But the Lakers were always due for some regression to the mean. Luke Walton said the team “gave up” in Sacramento, and they did seem to roll over fairly easily following the halftime break.
The Lakers are probably not going to reach the heights of their 10-10 start consistently again. However, they also are unlikely to look as bad as they have over the past seven losses for the rest of the year. Their opponents have made adjustments, and if Walton is as good of a coach as most of us think he is, he will make some changes to the Lakers’ approach.
The team will get a little healthier too (D’Angelo Russell looked mostly good in limited minutes against the Kings), and their young players will continue to grow as the year goes along.
The Lakers aren’t done, they just aren’t as good as their fun start. That’s okay, and it means they’ll likely be the type of fun-to-watch-but-not-all-that-good team most predicted heading into the year.
All stats per NBA.com. Harrison Faigen is co-host of the Locked on Lakers podcast (subscribe here), and you can follow him on Twitter at @hmfaigen. You can listen to him, Anthony Irwin, and Jared Dubin of Vice Sports discuss their expectations for the Lakers below: