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Lakers’ defense collapses in second half of ugly loss to Kings

L.A.’s horrific defensive performance and a rough shooting night from LeBron James were more than enough for the Kings to take advantage and beat the Lakers.

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NBA: Los Angeles Lakers at Sacramento Kings Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports

After a strong start in the first half, the Lakers’ defense fell apart after halftime and never recovered as the Sacramento Kings caught fire in the second half, outrunning L.A.’s aging stars and dominating the paint to get the better of their rivals from the south by a score of 125-116.

As it has been pretty much all season the Lakers’ defense was absolutely abysmal, especially later in the game. This was particularly true against the Kings’ starting unit, as every Sacramento starter had scored in double figures by the early third quarter. De’Aaron Fox led the way with 29 points, sailing by defenders all night to have his way around the rim.

On the other end of the court, LeBron James simply could not keep up, finishing just 13-29 from the field, 3-12 from three and 5-10 from the free-throw line. He still had another 30-point performance, but his rough shooting night finished well beyond the margin for error afforded him with the Lakers’ defense playing as bad as it did tonight.

He also, once again, received little help from his co-star. Russell Westbrook finished just 2-14 from the field and 0-5 from three-point range in another awful scoring performance. It’s clear Russ is in an exceptionally bad funk by now, and as his name swirls in trade rumors, it’s clear something has to change in terms of his role with the team if he remains in purple and gold.

Malik Monk made an emphatic case that his poor showing against the Grizzlies on Sunday was an aberration, hitting his first four shots from the field — all of which were three-pointers, en route to a 22-point performance. His late layup with less than two minutes remaining brought the Lakers within four, but a Chimezie Metu three with less than a minute to go sealed it for the Kings.

Trevor Ariza got his second start of the season in the frontcourt alongside James, but recorded two fouls in the game’s first 90 seconds and was quickly benched for Stanley Johnson. Ariza reentered later in the first and showed that he’s still getting up to speed. He did show some glimpses of the badly needed length and size on the Lakers’ horrid wing defense, but it’s also clear that his 36-year-old legs can’t move like they once used to, and the Kings’ speedy guards led by Fox took full advantage of that matchup.

Carmelo Anthony was a late scratch with back tightness, but Austin Reaves stepped up in his absence with a career-high 19 points off the bench. Still, not even Reaves could stop the bleeding on defense, as the Kings became one of the first teams to really wise up and avoid attacking Reaves, instead going at L.A.’s older and slower defenders.

After a back-and-forth first quarter, the Lakers went on a 14-2 run early in the second behind a lineup featuring James, Westbrook, Ariza, Talen Horton-Tucker and Reaves to take a double-digit lead. The Lakers remained well ahead for most of the quarter before a late Kings run to narrow the gap to six points just before halftime. Still, that sequence looked like one of the Lakers’ better stretches all year, with crisp ball movement leading to some highlight plays like this poster dunk from Reaves:

But the Lakers rediscovered their early-season habit of sluggish play in the third quarter, as the Kings’ young core out-hustled L.A. and took advantage of James going cold from the field, flipping the script to the tune of a 24-3 run to take a 13-point lead. Sacramento ended up scoring 40 points in the third compared to just 23 from the Lakers.

Shockingly, tonight’s game already marked the final contest of the year between the Lakers and Kings. L.A. finished 2-2 against Sacramento, who fired former Lakers head coach Luke Walton midseason and is well on its way to another finish outside the playoffs. Once they’re officially eliminated, the Kings will have the longest postseason drought in NBA history, having missed out every year since 2005. So the Lakers finishing at .500 in their season series against one of the worst teams in the NBA — and allowing 125 points or more in each of their two losses — is humiliating to say the least.

The Lakers get two days off before heading to Denver for their first game of the season against the Nuggets. Tip-off is at 6 p.m. PST on Spectrum Sportsnet and NBA TV.

For more Lakers talk, subscribe to the Silver Screen and Roll podcast feed on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher or Google Podcasts. You can follow Austin on Twitter at @AustinGreen44.