The Lakers continued their best stretch of the season on Friday night, unplugging the Sacramento Kings’ victory beam in a 136-134 victory. The matchup was as back-and-forth as it gets, with 18 lead changes and 20 ties, but in the end the Lakers secured the win in the closing seconds.
The victory moved the Lakers to 19-21, back to nearly .500 and tied with the Minnesota Timberwolves for 11th-place in the Western Conference standings.
The production for L.A. was well-balanced. LeBron James had 37 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists, and Dennis Schroder had the game-winning free-throws as part of his own 27 points. Russell Westbrook added 23 points, 15 assists and 5 rebounds off the bench, and Thomas Bryant continued his recent run of great production with 29 points and 14 rebounds.
Sacramento may have lost but their stars came to play as well in a game that was in doubt for basically all 48 minutes. De’Aron Fox had 34 points and 9 assists, and scored 17 in the fourth alone to keep the Kings in the game. Damontas Sabonis had 25 points, 12 rebounds and 7 assists before he fouled out late in the game thanks to LeBron targeting him throughout the game.
With so many players out and having played just last night, the Lakers stuck with the same starting five that found so much success against Atlanta in Sacramento. That continuity and production continued on Saturday, with the Lakers scoring 37 points in the first quarter alone. 3-point shooting, which was L.A.’s Achilles heel at the start of the season, started off as a strength tonight, as they shot 66.7% from three in the first quarter. Sacramento was just as good, though, with Davion Mitchell scoring nine points off the bench to lead the Kings to a one-point lead after one.
The rest of the half was a back-and-forth affair. Sacramento went on a run to start the second and Los Angeles countered with a 9-0 run of their own. The defense was optional and the refs' whistle felt inconsistent (20 free throws for the Kings 12 for the Lakers), but after one half of basketball, the game was a stalemate at 73.
After halftime, both teams picked up where they had left off. The Kings’ starting five was clicking on all cylinders with every starter in double digits, and the Lakers had their current three best players, Bron, Russ and Dennis, answering every Sacramento basket. In the closing seconds of the quarter, Bron’s driving layup kept things even once again at 109.
So, three-quarters of absolute parity. Who would win the fourth and final quarter?
It was the Lakers. They went on an 11-2 run to start the frame, with Bryant making mid-range basket after mid-range basket to create some separation between themselves and Sacramento. Eventually the Kings settled down thanks to Sabonis staying aggressive in the paint, and we were back to a two-point game midway through the quarter.
The closing minutes were as exhilarating as a regular season game gets, and with 48 seconds left LeBron converted on a layup and not only got the foul call but fouled out Sabonis on the play. Up by one, Sacramento had possession, but Dennis forced a turnover to give the Lakers the ball back. After Russ split a pair of free throws, Fox hit a game-tying basket but left six seconds on the clock. Dennis drove to the basket and was fouled with 3.6 seconds left and made the pair to secure the win for good when Fox (finally) missed a fourth-quarter shot as the buzzer sounded.
During this winning streak, the Lakers have done everything right. They’ve been a top-five rebounding team and a top-ten 3-point shooting. Maybe the front office is kicking the can down the road and not looking to compete, but you certainly cannot say that about the players on the court. They fought back from every deficit tonight to get a tough win on the second night of a back-to-back and are right in the play-in/playoff hunt as we near the halfway point of the season.
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