The Lakers have come away with their most decisive win of the 2018-2019 season so far following a pummelling 101-86 victory over the Kings in Sacramento – less of a point difference than their match against the Suns, perhaps, but an even greater sense of a hard won effort, not least because of 25 points from LeBron James. They maintained a pretty steady hand from the outset too, remaining ahead of the home team to rise to a 26-20 lead by the time that the first quarter came to a close.
For the most part the Lakers dominated the court during the first six minutes, as a pullup jump shot from Lonzo Ball, a driving layup from Ingram and then a pair of sterling efforts from JaVale McGee – a Ball-assisted 3-foot dunk and a Kuzma-assisted 1-foot dunk – set the stage for a resounding sequencc of pointscoring from LeBron, who compensated for an intervening pair of misses from Kuzma and Chandler with a driving layup of his own, followed by a 27-foot step back jumpshot.
In the interim, Fox continued to chip away at Los Angeles with a two point shot and then a free throw, but with a seven point deficit the Kings needed a whole lots of points to level the score and then get to a comfortable lead. Unfortunately for Kings fans, a pair of misses from Bogdan Bogdanovic paved the way for a sustained drought for both sides, with Sacramento having to wait until the last four minutes for Bogdanovich to go from scorer to assister and help Willie Cauley-Stein with a 2-foot layup.
After such a long period without points, this should have marked a shift in momentum for the Kings, and the Lakers seemed to know it, calling a full timeout six seconds later. A series of Sacramento exchanges – Hield for Cauley-Stein, Jackson for Fox, Koufos for Shumpert – seemed set to strengthen the home team further, especially once Josh Hart subbed on for LeBron and Ingram followed up with a missed three point jumper.
Nevertheless, Hart made his impact immediately, assisting Kentavious Caldwell-Pope with a three point jumper that reversed the splendid isolation of Cauley-Stein’s earlier effort, leading to a seesawing of points over the last three minutes that ended up with Los Angeles six points ahead. The Lakers’ momentum continued into the second quarter too, despite a personal foul from Hart and a missed jumpshot from Rondo, with McGee linking up with Stephenson for the first alley oop of the night.
Nevertheless, a pair of misses from Rondo and Caldwell-Pope meant that the next points scored were a countervailing alley oop from Willie Cauley-Stein, assisted by Fox. From there, the space between baskets started to distend as it had at the end of the first act, giving the Lakers even more space and time to relish their control of the match, as a three point jumper from Caldwell-Pope, a pullup jump shot from Stephenson and a three point jumper from Hart put Los Angeles sixteen ahead at 38-22, with LeBron running back onto the court for good measure.
Only a bad pass from Stephenson gave the Lakers a chance, allowing Bogdanovich to pop in, steal it, and make a much-neded dunk, with Cauley-Stein taking a leaf out of his shooting guard’s book to make the most of a bad pass from Tyson Chandler six seconds later, and complementing Bogdanovich’s dunk with a 2-foot driving dunk of his own. With LeBron missing a two point shot, Cauley-Stein and Bogdanovich linked up for an alley oop shot that was every bit a gesture of consolidation as the combination between McGee and Stephenson earlier in the quarter.
All of a sudden, the Kings had the momentum, and were within three points of the Lakers following a jumpshot from Fox, only for LeBron to guide the team to clock up seven points of his own, thereby maintaining the six point lead that the Lakers had enjoyed heading into the second quarter. For all their fleeting periods of focus and brilliance, then, the Kings had failed to make any net impact over the last twelve minutes, meaning they had to bring a particularly emphatic effort to the third act.
At first, they seemed on the verge of achieving just that, although it wasn’t due to any great acceleration of pointscoring on their part so much as the densest period of errors and fouls for the Lakers in the game so far, keeping Los Angeles at 53 while a jumpshot from Iman Shumpert, a two point shot from Menja Bjelica and an 18-foot pullup jump shot from Buddy Hield allowed the hosts to gradually creep back to 51 by four minutes in.
Despite a LeBron-assisted two-pointer from Caldwell-Pope, the Lakers continued to miss some crucial opportunities, with an away from play foul from LeBron giving Hield a free throw that saw the Kings narrow the gap even further to a one point deficit after Cauley-Stein made a 17-foot jumper twenty seconds later. For a moment, points from Chandler, Fox and Kuzma saw the game hang in its most precarious balance, but LeBron steadied the ship with a Ball-assisted alley oop and then a step back jumpshot to helm Los Angeles’ return to a 64-56 lead.
The game now continued neck and neck, but not even a driving floating jump shot from Fox and a triple free throw from Bogdanovich could make a proper dent in the lead that LeBron had helped rebuild, and Sacramento returned at the start of the fourth quarter looking at an eleven point deficit and a whole lot of Los Angeles momentum to account for.
The pointscoring continued to be quite spread out at the start of the last twelve minutes, partly due to a nightmare sequence from Marvin Bagley III, who missed a driving layup, two free throws and tip shot all at once, giving Stephenson’s opening Rondo-assisted jumper even more authority than it would have otherwise exuded at such a critical juncture. Mason might have responded with a pullump jump shot a moment later, but the Lakers had the momentum, with the Kings calling a timeout after a second Rondo-assisted three point jumper from Stephenson bookended this opening sequence by bringing the scoreline to a sobering 85-68.
Yet the timeout was followed by another pair of Sacramento misses – one of them from Bagley – disheveling the Kings enough for Rondo to steal the ball from Fox and get it to Caldwell-Pope for a two point shot, after which Caldwell-Pope assisted Hart with a superb 25-foot three point jumper in turn. Bagley now went some way to making up for his earlier botch, clocking up four points over the longest period of the game without a Lakers basket, until Ingram made a driving layup to contain the Kings as they started to creep into sight at 90-78.
As had occurred at the end of the last quarter, LeBron now conclude this sparse pointscoring period for the Lakers with a bang, starting with a free throw and then assisting Kuzma wth a dunk before a driving layup of his own led to a full timeout for a Sacramento outfit anxious to put a pin in the King’s escalating momentum. For a moment, it seemed to have worked, as LeBron lost the ball to Shumpert for the next Kings two-pointer, but a driving layup from the ex-Cav with two minutes on the clock gave Hart the momentum he needed to pop through a 26-foot three-pointer off a Stephenson assist to bring the Lakers to a very impressive 101-82 lead.
These were the last points they would score over the course of the night, and yet a pair of free throws from Mason and a concluding hook shot from Harry Giles felt like the mere epilogue to what had been a dominant display from Los Angeles. Not only was the scoreline the second best of their season so far, but they’d had to make the Kings work harder than any other team, Suns included – and they’ll be looking to demonstrate that same form and focus when they take on Atlanta tomorrow, as LeBron and the team continue to congeal and integrate more with each match.