After a bright start where the Lakers led 39-28 after one, L.A. couldn’t get much done in the second and third quarters, and a fourth-quarter rally fell short, as L.A. went on to lose 115-111 against the Domantas Sabonis-less Sacramento Kings on Wednesday night at home.
The Lakers are now 20-25 on the season and are two games back from a play-in spot. This defeat also means they lose the season series 1-3 to the Kings as well as the tiebreaker.
Sacramento got great performances from De’Aaron Fox (31 points) and Harrison Barnes (20 points) and improve to 25-20 on the season. LeBron James led all Lakers with 32 points in the defeat.
To win, the Lakers had to play better defense than they did in their victory against the Houston Rockets, where they allowed 134 points. Having Sabonis ruled out was supposed to help, as he’s arguably the Kings’ best player, but with the slow-footed big off the floor, the Kings could run even more than they usually do. L.A. did a good job containing them early; Sacramento struggled to score in the first quarter managing only 28 points, while the Lakers forced 4 turnovers in the opening 12 minutes.
But an anemic offense canceled out that solid defensive start from the Lakers in the second quarter. Managing only 21 points in the second, the Laker lead evaporated and they headed to the third down by one despite leading by as many as 14 in the first half.
The “third quarter Lakers” emerged from the halftime break, struggling to score or get any stops. Harrison Barnes (20 points on the night) got going in the third, and Richaun Holmes — who averages 2.8 points per game — got hot in his start to replace Sabonis. He was a perfect 7-7 from the field, good for 16 points (including two clutch free throws to seal the game for the Kings). And after three quarters, Sacramento had control and an 8-point lead heading into the fourth.
After being dominated for two-quarters L.A. came roaring back in the fourth. It was a coalition of the willing, with rookie Max Christie scoring 7 of his 12 points, Russ matching each electric basket with some shaky decisions and LeBron rarely resting likey because Darvin Ham didn’t want to lose the game for good due to the team’s continuing woes in non-LeBron minutes.
The Lakers had three straight offensive possessions where desperation shots had to be taken with the shot clock dwindling down, but countered that with a Wenyen hustle putback and a LeBron James and-one basket and the game was tied up at 108 with 1:10 left.
It wasn’t enough, however, and that was it for good basketball for the Lakers as they failed to score on the following possession and only managed a Nunn three in the closing seconds. Barnes converted on a driving layup and was fouled, Fox split a pair of free throws, Holmes hit his pair at the charity stripe and Trey Lyles iced the game with back-to-back free throws of his own.
There are a myriad of reasons why the Lakers lost, but I wonder why Darvin Ham used Juan Toscano-Anderson and Patrick Beverley so much in the closing minute when neither player had a good game on Wednesday? The Lakers already have such a slim margin for error and those substitutions along with those three poor offensive possessions during the rally in the final two minutes were crucial moments where the Lakers fell short tonight. It often feels like these lineups have all of the downsides of playing small ball but none of the benefits.
Are they getting used because Ham believes these are the best players available? Is it a result of the team just being too small and being exposed against the Kings? As has been the story of the 2022-23 Lakers, there are plenty of questions, but not many good answers or solutions.
Is it too early to be looking at the standings? In the words of my colleague Darius Soriano, yes and no. With 37 games left, and things so tight in the Western Conference, standings watch might seem silly, but every game matters and every win is worth its weight in gold. Especially for L.A., which is still currently on the outside looking in at the play-in.
The Lakers needed this win against Sacramento — especially with Sabonis out — and they couldn’t take care of business. We’re a long way from tiebreakers being a factor for the Lakers, but everything helps as they try to claw their way up the standings. So yeah, losing this one hurts. Things won’t get any easier for the Lakers as they face the 31-12 Memphis Grizzlies next on Friday.