After a heartbreaking loss to the Chicago Bulls on Christmas the Lakers were back in action Monday night in Sacramento. The Lakers headed north for their first road game of the season, taking on the Sacramento Kings. It was the season opener for Sacramento, who is expected to be much improved this season.
Armed with a plethora of young talent, the Kings have been looking to make a splash this season. Led by Tyreke Evans, DeMarcus Cousins and rookie Jimmer Fredette, the Kings have more talent this year than they have had the past few seasons.
The Lakers were looking to rebound after losing to Derrick Rose and the Bulls on Sunday. After leading by six with just a minute to go in the game the team collapsed, allowing Chicago to steal the opening night win. Regardless, the Lakers were looking to put the loss behind them tonight in Sacramento.
After a strong defensive performance against Chicago the Lakers struggled early on against the Kings. Sacramento had more options than Chicago in terms of players that could actively attack the basket. The Lakers also looked a step slow on both ends of the floor. If their legs are tired after just one game this could be a very long season for Los Angeles, with a large amount of back to back games on the docket.
One bright spot for the Lakers in the first quarter was the play of Metta World Peace. After struggling in the pre-season and on opening day, World Peace had a strong performance. He was able to score 10 points on 5-7 shooting, and helped anchor the Lakers defensive effort. The problem is that the Lakers defensive effort needed a lot of anchoring. The Kings were able to run past nearly every Los Angeles defender, who seemed stuck in the ground.
The Lakers also had trouble at the point guard position. Derek Fisher and Steve Blake both had trouble keeping up with Tyreke Evans, who scored 12 points on 5-8 shooting in the first half.
Los Angeles hung with the Kings for the majority of the first half but were never able to really build any momentum. Poor defense plagued the Lakers throughout the first 24 minutes of the game, as the Kings shot 52.6 percent from the field. Sacramento also connected on four of their 10 attempts from beyond the arc, which was a major difference in the first half. The Lakers were having the same issues in the first half that they were having against the Clippers in the pre-season. The Kings were getting open looks from beyond the arc due to poor close out defense from the Lakers.
One bright spot for the team was the play of Josh McRoberts. While he isn’t the type of player that is going to light up the stat sheet each night, he creates possessions for the Lakers. His ability to get to loose balls and knock them towards the Lakers is something that the team sorely missed last season, and should be something they will enjoy having in 2011-12.
On the court the Lakers saw their momentum dwindle at the end of the half. The Kings stormed the basket on multiple occasions to finish the half while the Lakers looked helpless on both ends of the floor. Evans led the way for Sacramento, who finished the half on a 7-0 run. The Kings ended the first half leading 49-40 over Los Angeles.
The third quarter started poorly for the Lakers. There’s no doubt that this has been the problematic period for the Lakers the past two seasons, and that certainly continued early in the third in Sacramento. The Kings were able to push their lead to 13 as the Lakers continued to struggle on offense. While Los Angeles did pick up the defense a little bit in the third they continued to have their problems on the offensive end.
For Los Angeles, the biggest problem on offense was the ball movement. The team just didn’t have enough offensive firepower to hang with the Kings in the third quarter. After outscoring the Lakers by eight points in the second quarter, Sacramento outscored them again in the third by five.
One notable moment in the third came when Luke Walton and Matt Barnes checked into the game for Los Angeles. This was the first time they have been on the court this season, and both were able to get some points on the board before the quarter ended.
Still, the third quarter proved to be another costly one for the Lakers. After entering the quarter looking to draw closer to Sacramento and set up a chance to win the game in the fourth, they fell further behind and dug themselves an even deeper hole to dig out of during the last 12 minutes.
As the fourth quarter began it looked like it was going to get out of hand down the stretch. Sacramento continued to connect on nearly every shot they put up, and the Lakers were once again a step slow on many of their rotations. The aggression that the Lakers showcased against Chicago, especially in the paint on defense, was not nearly as impressive as their effort in Sacramento. The Kings beat the Lakers to nearly every loose ball, especially those in the painted area. This resulted in second chance points for the Kings, and cost the Lakers several possessions.
Still, those that expected the Lakers to slowly deteriorate and fall away were mistaken when Los Angeles managed to put together a bit of a run in the fourth. Led by Metta World Peace, on both ends of the floor, the Lakers were able to mount a comeback and begin to creep back into the game. While their defense did look much improved in the final quarter, the biggest difference for the Lakers was that Sacramento simply started missing their shots.
The two main players for L.A. in the fourth were World Peace and Pau Gasol. Both displayed some very fancy interior passing, and Gasol played the role of scorer as well as distributor. Gasol was able to display his tremendous footwork in the paint, and players like World Peace and Barnes were the beneficiaries.
However, the Lakers seemed to run out of magic before the end of the game. After they were able to pull closer the Kings stepped on their throats. Some ill-advised shots from Bryant and Fisher allowed Sacramento to pull ahead of Los Angeles for good.
The main star for the Kings was Marcus Thornton, who scored 27 points on 9-13 shooting. Tyreke Evans added 20 points of his own after shooting 6-13 from the floor.
For Los Angeles it was Bryant who led the way with 29 points, followed by World Peace with 19. Pau Gasol added 15 points of his own. However, in the end the Lakers fell to the Kings 100-91.
For the Lakers they will be back in action tomorrow night for the third leg of their back-to-back-to-back gauntlet. Los Angeles will host the Utah Jazz for their second home game of the season.