The win was critical for the Lakers for a couple of reasons. For one, it created breathing room between them and the Utah Jazz, who had closed to within a half-game of LA's No. 8 spot with a solid victory over the Memphis Grizzlies on March. 16.
Antawn Jamison led the Lakers with 27 points, and Dwight Howard chipped in 12 points and 17 rebounds as the Lakers pulled away down the stretch behind a barrage of threes from Steve Nash, Steve Blake and Jamison.
LA figures to get both Bryant and the injured Pau Gasol back in the reasonably near future, but thanks to some big-time performances from unlikely sources, they managed to handle the Kings rather easily.
On the night, the Lakers shot nearly 57 percent as a team and out-rebounded the Kings by a plus-10 margin, so you can bet there'll be some pretty generous grades after a short-handed performance like the one they turned in on Sunday.
Steve Nash: A
Coming into the matchup with the Kings, Steve Nash was probably having nightmares about Sacramento point guard Isaiah Thomas.
The pint-sized ball-handler is just the type of player that has given Nash and the Lakers fits for years: lightning-quick and extremely aggressive. Nash's dreams appeared to come true in the worst way early on, as Thomas pumped in nine first-quarter points on 3-of-5 shooting.
Thomas kept right on scoring throughout the game, finishing with 26 points on the night, but Nash turned in a real gem of his own.
Re-installed as the pick-and-roll facilitator he was born to be, Nash thrived, probably making Lakers fans wonder why he hasn't been the primary ball-handler all season. The two-time MVP diced up the Kings, working his way around screens and into the lane at will.
All of Nash's penetration and shot-creating abilities yielded a vintage performance that featured 19 points, 12 assists and four rebounds on 7-of-12 shooting. As the director of the Lakers' offense for the first time in what seems like forever, the point guard looked like he was finally in his element.
Even if things change when Bryant returns, it sure was nice to see that Nash still has it.
Jodie Meeks: F
Jodie Meeks played 28 minutes, but it was a little too easy to forget he was on the floor at all. The Lakers' spot-starting 2-guard didn't do much of a Kobe Bryant impression, hitting 2-of-6 shots for six uninspiring points.
All's well that ends well, as the Lakers took care of business, but if ever there was a perfect example of why Meeks is best suited as a low-minute role player, Sunday's game was it.
It's one thing if a three-point specialist comes in off the bench and goes cold. Coaches simply give players like that a quick hook and hope for a better result the next time out. But when guys like Meeks are members of a starting unit, cold spells have far more impact on the game's outcome.
Meeks played more time against the Kings because he had to. Rest assured he won't see nearly as much PT when Mike D'Antoni has the luxury of a legitimate starter at the 2.
Metta World Peace: B+
Shooting just 40 percent from the field in the five games leading up to LA's tilt with the Kings, Metta World Peace was in need of a hot shooting night.
Fortunately for the Lakers, he got one.
MWP hit his first six field-goal attempts and finished with 22 points on 10-of-13 shooting. He'd be deserving of a higher grade if he'd made a broader statistical contribution, but despite playing 40 minutes, he managed only four assists and a surprising goose egg in the rebound category.
But hey, the Lakers basically went to a point-guard centric offense, so World Peace's main role against the Kings was to set up shop on the perimeter to knock down open shots off of penetration. He did that exceptionally well.
Earl Clark: C-
Earl Clark ended up with decent numbers, but by allowing Patrick Patterson to catch fire, he gave back much more than he got.
In Clark's defense, Patterson seemed incapable of missing in the game's early stages, knocking down eight of his first 10 attempts. At some point, though Clark needed to simply deny his power forward counterpart the ball.
On the night, L.A's athletic forward finished with 11 points on 4-of-10 shooting, but was badly outplayed not only by Patterson, but also his replacement off the bench.
Clark's mediocre play of late—he's been in double figures just twice in the last six games—has to have the Lakers hoping that Pau Gasol's setback in his return from a torn plantar fascia is only a minor one. After showing some early promise, Clark's minutes have dwindled and his effectiveness has waned.
Gasol can't get back soon enough.
Dwight Howard: A-
Maybe it was the absence of DeMarcus Cousins in the paint, or perhaps he was reveling in the feeling of his athleticism finally returning after the All-Star Break. Whatever the cause, one thing was certain on Sunday night: Dwight Howard was feeling pretty darn good against the Kings.
Singing along to Ludacris on the PA system, checking out replays of his blocks and flexing toward the bench, Howard was having fun.
D12 managed to post a double-double midway through the second quarter, and that early milestone served as a harbinger of his overall dominance. Howard's final line of 12 points, 17 rebounds, five blocks and an assist was great, but the way he looked was much more important for the Lakers' future.
All points and blocks aren't the same, and when Howard is punctuating his stats with high-wire lobs and great overall activity, they count for so much more.
Antawn Jamison: A
Jamison got off to a hot start, racking up eight first-quarter points on 3-of-4 shooting, but he didn't stop there.
Finishing with a team-high 27 points on 8-of-14 shooting, the 14-year vet gave D'Antoni the stretch-4 performance he's been looking for all season. With Nash and Howard constituting the offense's pick-and-roll focal point, Jamison was free to find open space on the wings and in the corners.
And when the ball rotated around to him, he certainly made the most of it.
Jamison's five triples on eight attempts were a huge reason for LA's victory and were particularly valuable in their closing run. If he can muster a few more nights like this when the Lakers have their full complement of starters back in uniform, LA is going to look downright dangerous on offense.
Bench Grade: B+
Steve Blake did a pretty nice impression of his starting counterpart, probing into the lane on a couple of careful drives, drawing the defense and finding Howard underneath and shooters on the wings.
The impression didn't stop there, though.
Blake dropped an efficient 16 points on 6-of-11 shooting, including four triples in seven tries. He didn't have much luck containing Thomas either, but his eight assists and overall steady play on offense gave the Lakers a real boost.
The only blemish on an otherwise excellent evening for Blake was his four turnovers.
And because Blake was the last of just seven Lakers to see the floor on Sunday, the bench grades are all his.