It has been a disappointing season for the Sacramento Kings, but they at least have some momentum before the All-Star break.
Sacramento defeated the Los Angeles Lakers 123-120 in Wednesday's Western Conference showdown at Golden 1 Center. Buddy Hield, De'Aaron Fox and Harrison Barnes led the way for the Kings, who are 14-21 overall but 2-1 in their last three contests following a nine-game losing streak.
Los Angeles was without both LeBron James and Anthony Davis and fell to 24-13 on the season despite impressive showings from Dennis Schroder, Montrezl Harrell and Kyle Kuzma. It is just 2-6 in the last eight games and continues to struggle without its All-Star big man.
Kuzma had a chance to force overtime at the buzzer, but his three-pointer came up just short.
Notable Player Stats
- Buddy Hield, G, SAC: 29 PTS, 6 AST, 6 REB, 7-of-11 3PT
- De'Aaron Fox, G, SAC: 23 PTS, 8 AST, 3 STL
- Harrison Barnes, F, SAC: 20 PTS, 6 AST, 3 REB
- Dennis Schroder, G, LAL: 28 PTS, 9 AST
- Montrezl Harrell, F, LAL: 26 PTS, 13 REB
- Kyle Kuzma, F, LAL: 25 PTS, 13 REB, 3 AST
Sacramento's Balanced Attack Enough to Survive Short-Handed Lakers
It wasn't that long ago there was reason for optimism in Sacramento when the team was 12-11 overall and winners of seven of eight on Feb. 7.
It's been all downhill since, but Wednesday at least provided an opportunity to beat the defending champions without their primary playmakers. In an ideal world, the Kings could use such a win to build some momentum heading into the All-Star break as their young core attempts to rediscover its form from earlier in the season.
Hield was up to the task in the first half, draining four three-pointers on his way to 16 points. Richaun Holmes also took advantage of a Davis-less Lakers frontcourt, while Fox used his speed in transition to force defenders his way and dish out assists.
The defense is always going to be a problem for the 2020-21 Kings, but they were dialed in enough on the offensive end to escape with a victory.
The impressive and, frankly, necessary offense continued into the second half, as all five starters were in double figures before the end of the third quarter. The Lakers' perimeter defenders had no answers for Hield's outside shooting and Fox's ability to get into the lane, which put Sacramento in position to win down the stretch.
Sacramento's offense went beyond the arc in the fourth quarter as the home team attempted to create some separation with Hield, Nemanja Bjelica and Cory Joseph raining shots from the outside.
When the Lakers adjusted and committed more to stopping the outside shots, Fox and Barnes made the winning plays in the final minute by getting inside the arc and converting near the rim.
Schroder, Harrell and Kuzma Thrive Even in Defeat
Sacramento is one of the worst teams in the Western Conference, but Wednesday still figured to be quite the test for the Lakers.
After all, they were without James, Davis, Marc Gasol and Alex Caruso just one night after they lost to the Phoenix Suns without Davis, Gasol and Kuzma. Kuzma at least returned, and Los Angeles also had the advantage of going up against a Sacramento team that is last in the league in defensive rating, per NBA.com.
Schroder asserted himself in the early going without LeBron and AD, darting through that weak Kings defense and creating looks for himself and others. That, along with the spark Harrell provided off the bench while battling down low, helped keep the visitors within striking distance.
Kuzma's return was also important, as he caught fire from deep in the first half while pouring in 14 points before intermission.
It is difficult to generate many big-picture takeaways from a Lakers game without their stars, but Kuzma, Schroder and Harrell continued to torch Sacramento's defense into the second half. They were the three available players who figure to see significant minutes in crunch time of the more important games to come, so it was a welcome sign for Los Angeles fans.
They also took over for stretches with the game on the line and scored or assisted on the Lakers' final 20 points.
Not even that was enough, though, as the Purple and Gold couldn't quite steal a win without their go-to options.
The Kings visit the Portland Trail Blazers on Thursday, while the Lakers are off until they host the Indiana Pacers on March 12.