A depleted Sacramento Kings team riding a five-game losing streak understood they needed to play an “A” game against its arch nemesis — the Los Angeles Lakers.
With a thunderous crowd on hand at Sleep Train Arena, Mike D’Antoni’s “Showtime” squad didn’t know what hit them.
The Kings pulled off a 113-97 victory behind the chants of “Beat L-A! Beat L-A!” by an energetic Kings crowd. Sacramento ended its losing streak and improved to 3-8 on the season, while the Lakers regressed to 6-6. This was the fifth time the teams have squared off in a span of two months including the preseason.
“It always feels good beating the Lakers,” Kings guard Marcus Thornton said. “Our fans were into it so we don’t really want to let them down. So we came out and played hard, I don’t know what for, but we played extremely hard against the Lakers.”
The crowd erupted when DeMarcus Cousins dished a behind–the–back pass to a streaking Tyreke Evans that led to an uncontested layup. But at the end of the first quarter, the Lakers led 21-15.
The Kings needed a spark and they got it from the bench, led by Thornton’s team-high 23 points and four rebounds. They outscored the Lakers bench 49-19, which continued to raise questions about the depth of the Lakers reserves.
The Kings finished the first half strong and led 42-41 giving their fans something to cheer about. On the other hand, the Lakers needed to find a way to get their superstar center Dwight Howard involved in the offense because he finished the half with zero points and that needed to change if they planned to keep their winning streak alive.
“The first half might have been the worst basketball I’ve seen in 10 years,” D’Antoni said after the game.
He added: “It was like we were wrestling in mud.”
Aaron Brooks took advantage of his second start of the season by establishing a needed veteran presence and floor general for his young team at the start of the second half.
He ignited a flame on his team when he drove past his defender and floated an underhand layup over Howard and drew a foul for a three-point play. Then Evens drove, kicked out a pass to Brooks and shot a 3-pointer extending their run to 17-5, which put the Kings ahead 69-58 with 2:51 left in the 3rd.
“Our team went on a whirlwind,” Kings head coach Keith Smart said.
The Lakers looked lost on offense not knowing how to match Sacramento’s up-tempo offense and having Steve Nash sidelined didn’t help. That only meant one thing; it was Kobe Bryant time.
Bryant turned into the “Black Mamba” and caught fire, making back-to-back 3-pointers, cutting into the deficit and finished the game with an efficient 11-of-20 shooting for 38 points. With a large Laker crowd on hand chanting “MVP” every time Bryant touched the ball, a hungry Kings team awoke looking to feed their crowd a convincing victory and an early Happy Thanksgiving.
Cousins came back into the game to contribute possibly the two biggest shots of the game when the Kings most needed them. Even though he was in foul trouble most of the game, his silky smooth crossover drive against Pau Gasol sent the Lakers starters to the bench knowing it was over.
The statistic that the Lakers will frown upon in their next film session will be losing the battle in the paint 50-22 to a team that had their leading rebounder Cousins out most of the game because of foul trouble. Howard finished with seven points on 2-of-4 shooting, while Gasol scored eight points and grabbed nine rebounds.
“It seemed like we were a little lethargic for whatever reason,” Bryant said. “We just have to push through it, particularly the second unit, especially while Dwight is in there. You don’t have to go to as many pick-and-rolls, really, just dump the ball down to him and let him operate.”
Both teams will play their next game on the road. The Kings will look to duplicate this impressive performance in Salt Lake City against the Jazz, while the Lakers will continue to search for the flashy Showtime seven-second offense that D’Antoni said he would implement.
“I think you always have a little bit of shock when a guy comes in new, and so you start off all like puppies out there,” D’Antoni said of his team’s turnaround when he was hired. “Now it’s back to reality a little bit.”