The Los Angeles Lakers (0-1) headed into their road game against the Sacramento Kings (0-1) with a feeling of unsettled business as the team dropped a tough contest in their opener after leading by double-digits at one point. Much has been made of rookie D’Angelo Russell’s slow start, but one adjustment that could help is the coaching staff’s acknowledgment that he should perhaps be permitted to handle the ball more and granted the freedom to generate offense.
As one of his draft classes’ best passers and more creative ball-handlers, this is an adjustment that almost makes too much sense. Russell will still have the benefit of being able to lean upon Jordan Clarkson and others capable of initiating the offense, but the sense is that you may as well allow him to grow comfortable in a leadership role from the start and essentially “take his lumps” in games that will ultimately have far less meaning down the road.
The Lakers kicked off tonight’s scoring when Kobe Bryant found a cutting D’Angelo Russell for a layup. Julius Randle was quick to join the mix as he dropped a smooth jump-hook on the left block over fellow former Kentucky Wildcat Willie Cauley-Stein. Early turnovers against the backcourt pressure of Rajon Rondo and Ben McLemore led to falling behind 12-4 and forcing Coach Scott to try to get them to regroup during a timeout. Jordan Clarkson was finally able to stem the tide a bit by utilizing a Bryant screen at the elbow in order to drive and finish at the rim and then followed with a three-pointer from the top of the key off a Russell drive-and-kick. The offense simply couldn’t get much going against a swarming Sacramento defense, but the lack of flow and unknown identity was a bit disconcerting to see at stage. Clarkson continued to pace (11 points) them and Nick Young continued his positive shooting start to the season with a couple log-range jumpers, but the Kings still led 40-24.
Brandon Bass opened the second quarter scoring for the Lakers with a jump-hook in traffic inside. The Lakers continued to struggle with their rotations and communication on defense as Sacramento literally dominated the paint on both end of the court. Bryant returned at about the 7-minute mark and attempted to break Sacramento’s momentum with a corner three-pointer, but the Kings responded with consecutive fast break layups to extend their lead to 61-39. D’Angelo Russell made a three-pointer at the top of the arc and Bryant followed with a shot inside to cut the lead to 61-44. The Kings had an answer for small spurt the Lakers attempted to make. Randle split a pair of free throws to cut the lead to 67-48. The Lakers continued their early-season struggles defending point guards as Rajon Rondo had a 12 point, six assist half. The coaching staff is going to have to go back to the drawing board as Sacramento took a 74-50 lead into the half.
Following some good ball movement from Clarkson and Randle, Russell started the second-half scoring for the Lakers with a three-pointer from the win. Clarkson quickly followed with a steal in the passing lane and dunk at the other end to cut the lead back down to 19 points, but the Lakers’ perimeter defense continued to prove porous as Rudy Gay immediately answered with a three-pointer of his own. Randle picked up his fourth foul attempting to assert himself on the offensive end against Rondo with over eight minutes left in the quarter. He then picked up his fifth on an offensive foul attempting to score on DeMarcus Cousins less than a minute later. Bryant made a pretty drive through traffic to reach 13 points on the night with about five minutes left in the quarter. Clarkson followed with a nice dive and finish of his own on the next possession, but the Kings continued to respond with buckets of their own. The most telling defensive possession of the game consisted of Cousins and Rondo essentially playing “hot-potato” with the ball behind the arc with little-to-know resistance resulting in a Rondo three-pointer to bring his total to 21 points for the game. To their credit, the Lakers were able to surmount a 20-7 run, but the 31-point hole they allowed themselves to fall in still left the Kings heading into the fourth with a 102-83 lead.
Omri Casspi ends the offense drought by both teams with a layup and a free throw to get the scoring underway in the fourth quarter. After a turnover from Brandon Bass, Darren Collison connected on a layup assisted by Marco Bellinelli. Ryan Kelly got involved with a dunk putting the Lakers’ score total at 87. Following a missed Koufos jumper, Nick Young drained a three-pointer. Lou Williams chipped in with a two-pointer. Rudy Gay slammed it home extending the lead to 21 for the Kings. Bass countered with a dunk of his own. Young connected on yet another three-pointer. Casspi hits a smooth layup on a Rudy Gay assist. Williams hit another jumper cutting the lead down to 16. Collison countered with an 11-foot jumper. Rookie Willie Cauley-Stein sent Bass to the line for two. Bass hit both free throws. Marcelo Huertas assisted Kelly on a three-pointer. Cauley-Stein got on the board with an easy deuce. The Kentucky product sent to the line after being fouled by Bass. Cauley-Stein hit both shots from the charity stripe. Cauley-Stein improved his point total to 17 with another easy bucket. D’Angelo Russell connected on an 18-footer bringing the Lakers within 21. James Anderson made a 12-footer on an assist from Cauley-Stein. Rookie Anthony Brown made a pair of free throws with less than three minutes to go in the game. Robert Sacre dunked it home cutting the lead to 20. Huertas hit Russell for a driving layup off a turnover by the Kings. Seth Curry connected on a 10-footer. Eric Moreland threw down an easy dunk. Russell headed to the line and made one out of two. Brown hit a three-pointer. King go on to win in convincing fashion, 132-114.