For the first time in three games, the Los Angeles Lakers have won without LeBron James.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope scored 26 to key a 121-114 win over the Sacramento Kings on Sunday night. The Lakers ended the game on an 18-4 run after trailing late, with Brandon Ingram (21 points and nine assists) making big shots down the stretch.
Josh Hart also added 22 points, allowing the Lakers (21-16) to avenge their one-point loss to the Kings three days earlier.
The Kings fell to 19-17 on the season despite 26 points from De'Aaron Fox.
De'Aaron Fox Deserves Spot on All-Star Roster
The Western Conference is loaded with the best basketball players in the world, but Fox deserves a spot among those players in the All-Star Game based on the way he has played to this point.
No one expected the Kings to be in the playoff hunt this late into the season after going 12 straight years without a winning record, but they have kept pace heading into 2019 thanks mostly to the play of their point guard.
Even while seemingly dealing with shoulder problems and foul trouble, Fox still had a good night with 26 points, seven assists, four rebounds and three steals. The Kings were even while he was on the court despite the seven-point loss.
He once again showed a knack for producing highlight plays in many phases of the game:
Perhaps just as important for him, he outdueled Lonzo Ball, a personal rival since they were both top recruits in high school.
Fox has been playing at this level all year long, entering the day averaging 18.0 points, 7.7 assists and 1.7 steals per game. The only players to match these numbers so far this season are James Harden, Russell Westbrook and Jrue Holiday, per Basketball Reference.
He has also taken his game to another level as of late. Taking away his six-minute game against the Timberwolves earlier this month, he averaged 21.3 points, 8.9 rebounds and 2.5 steals over his last 11 games.
The 21-year-old remains a threat every night as someone who can carry the offense with his scoring or keep the offense flowing with his passing while also playing shutdown defense on the perimeter.
While Buddy Hield has played well this season and just about everyone on the roster has exceeded expectations, Fox is the most valuable player on this team and one of the best on the floor every night.
DeMarcus Cousins has been the only Kings All-Star in the last 10 years, and that was because he put up numbers no one could ignore. While Fox doesn't have this type of production on paper, he has helped his team win and is playing at an All-Star level.
If he can keep this up, he should be headed to Charlotte next February.
Balanced Attack Is Vital for Lakers With LeBron Sidelined
Considering the type of production James can provide, no one can replace him when he is injured. This means the Lakers need a team effort to pick up the slack.
Most will turn to Ball and Kyle Kuzma to pick up the bulk of the scoring, but they aren't good enough to rely on night after night in the NBA.
Kuzma scored a combined 57 points over his last two games but struggled with efficiency Sunday with 18 points on 5-of-17 from the field. Ball only had 13 points on 1-of-6 from three-point range.
Despite the poor shooting, the Lakers remained competitive in this one and eventually pulled out a win, as everyone else on the roster filled their role and more.
Hart exploded for 17 points in the first half, finishing with 22 points. Caldwell-Pope was the go-to option in the second half while totaling 26.
It was then Ingram who took over late after looking passive at times this season with or without James on the floor. He filled up the stat sheet with 21 points, seven rebounds, two blocks and nine assists, an impressive feat after having zero assists last game against the Clippers.
The Lakers turned the game around with a 12-0 run when down 110-103 with under five minutes remaining, and Ingram was a big part of that with seven straight points.
His mindset was exactly what the Lakers need from the third-year player going forward:
With JaVale McGee and Tyson Chandler also helping Los Angeles win the battle on the boards, it was clear everyone in the rotation played a role in the win.
There isn't a lot of depth on the roster as currently assembled, but they can come together to win games even without their best player as long as the role players and bench continue to play at a high level.
The Lakers will continue their homestand Wednesday with a matchup against the Oklahoma City Thunder. The Kings will play on New Year's Day while hosting the Portland Trail Blazers.