The Lakers struggled to defend the paint, and LeBron James and Russell Westbrook both had relatively off nights, but the Lakers gutted out a 122-114 victory over the Sacramento Kings thanks to some clutch buckets from James, a stellar performance from Talen Horton-Tucker off the bench and key contributions from Malik Monk and Dwight Howard as well.
James went just 12-26 from the field after a slow start, but still managed to lead the Lakers in scoring with 31 points, including a couple of huge 3-pointers in the fourth quarter to keep the Lakers in the game as he went shot-for-shot down the stretch with almost-Laker Buddy Hield (who finished the evening with 26 points and seven 3-pointers of his own).
James came out on top in that duel, and he wasn’t afraid to let the Kings know about it. All in all, LeBron scored or assisted on 20 of the Lakers’ 37 points in the final period.
LeBron scored 14 of his 31 points in the final 8 minutes of the game after starting 6 of 18 from the field. He finished 12 of 26.— Mike Trudell (@LakersReporter) January 5, 2022
LeBron drives, scores, and yells "I'm a motherf***ing problem, bitch" at the Kings bench pic.twitter.com/NXQvEq9sVQ— CJ Fogler AKA Internet #BlackLivesMatter (@cjzero) January 5, 2022
LeBron had some words for the Sacramento Kings bench tonight pic.twitter.com/wghC1p7Kty— SB Nation (@SBNation) January 5, 2022
Westbrook had a horrendous start to his night, beginning the game 1-7 from the field and picking up a technical foul late in the first quarter. But although his shooting woes continued into the second period, Westbrook’s teammates picked him up, as the Lakers outscored the Kings 31-28 in the period to narrow their deficit to two points heading into halftime.
Russ finally settled in during the second half to finish with 19 points, and most impressively also ended the game with zero turnovers, the first time he had done since in 407 games (!).
Russell Westbrook finished Tuesday with 0 turnovers vs Kings.— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) January 5, 2022
It was the first time since March 14, 2016 that he did not record a turnover in a game.
That snaps a 407-game streak with a turnover, which was the longest since turnover tracking started in 1977-78. pic.twitter.com/OaN0f8Lxjm
And while Westbrook struggled shooting the ball, Horton-Tucker had his best game in weeks, hitting his first 3-pointer in five games and scoring 19 points off the bench. The Lakers’ young wing looked confident and aggressive all night, playing with a level of smoothness and control that has been absent from his game recently. Hopefully it’s a sign of things to come.
Also off the bench, Dwight Howard nearly had a double-double in the first half, notching 12 points and 8 rebounds on his way to a 14-point, 14-rebound performance. Meanwhile, starting shooting guard Malik Monk continued his recent aggressive play on offense, bouncing back from a rough shooting start to finish with 24 points, including some late buckets of his own to keep the Lakers neck-and-neck with the Kings in the fourth before they pulled away.
"It's tough not knowing if you're going to play...it's all about sacrifice. For me, it's about staying ready and staying positive." @DwightHoward (14 PTS, 14 REB) talks with the studio crew following his productive outing against the Kings. #LakeShow pic.twitter.com/c5Zm4OTG2I— Spectrum SportsNet (@SpectrumSN) January 5, 2022
Carmelo Anthony saw limited action in the first half as he picked up three quick fouls. But Anthony also came back with a couple of timely buckets to help close out the third quarter with an 8-2 Lakers run that proved critical in the team even staying in this game, much less having enough cushion to win by the end of regulation.
And, just like Westbrook, the rest of the Lakers did do a much better job limiting turnovers, with just 5 on the night compared to 17 from the Kings, including two costly ones on back-to-back possessions from Sacramento with under a minute to go.
However, L.A.’s defensive woes remained, especially on the interior. Four different Kings scored in double digits, led by De’Aaron Fox with 30 as Fox and the Kings’ big men shredded the Lakers’ weak pick-and-roll defense.
Alex Len and former Laker Damian Jones, who got the start at center for Sacramento on Tuesday, combined for 20 points, showing the limitations of the Lakers’ small-ball approach with Trevor Ariza still clearly not 100% after ankle surgery and a bout with COVID-19, and Howard only effective in small spurts (the less we say about DeAndre Jordan, who didn’t play in this one, the better).
But although L.A. has seen much more success offensively with LeBron playing heavier minutes than he’s used to on center, they’re still lacking a lot defensively without Anthony Davis healthy, as evidenced by how they were torched by two journeymen centers in Jones and Len tonight. This game was an example of how they can stay small and take advantage of the extra spacing that gives them, clearing driving lanes for James and Westbrook, but also how they can integrate a little more size with Howard when necessary to help stop the bleeding on defense.
This victory moves the Lakers to 20-19 on the season, and the team will now get two days off before returning to The Crypt to host the Atlanta Hawks on Friday. Tip-off is at 7 p.m. PST on ESPN.