"It's the little things, Jerry".
That's what Grant Napear said in the fourth quarter as the Kings collapsed on the road for the umpteenth time this season. He is exactly right.
This game was there for the taking. Pau Gasol was already out, but Kobe Bryant was as well. The Kings were missing DeMarcus Cousins, but Gasol/Bryant mean much more to the Lakers than Cousins does to Sacramento.
The Kings played an excellent first half of basketball, moving and sharing the ball, hitting open shots, and answering L.A.'s runs with their own. For the second straight game the Kings did a phenomenal job at taking care of the ball, losing it just 5 times throughout the night. Patrick Patterson and Isaiah Thomas carried the team in the first half and most of the game. Patterson, in his second start for Sacramento, scored 22 points on 9-12 shooting, while Thomas scored 26 on 9-20. However, they didn't get much help in the second half.
The 3rd quarter in particular was where the game fell apart at the seams. Sacramento's ball movement stopped as isolation basketball became the norm. Meanwhile, the Lakers, orchestrated by Steve Nash, got open shots and made them. Coach Mike D'Antoni went with a very short seven man rotation, playing just Antawn Jamison and Steve Blake off the bench. Jamison ended up leading the game in scoring with 27 points (8-14 from the field, 5-8 from three) and 9 rebounds. Blake didn't do quite as well but still put up 16 points (6-11 from the field, 4-7 from three) with 8 assists and 5 rebounds. Every time Sacramento would get close, Blake and Jamison made them pay.
The Kings had a chance in the fourth quarter to tie the game. Marcus Thornton had just gotten on a bit of a hot streak, and with Sacramento down just 90-88, the Kings forced a turnover and had a 3-on-1 fast break developing. That play resulted in a turnover as Jason Thompson mishandled the ball and barreled down the lane into the sole defender, Steve Blake, for the offensive foul. Immediately after that mistake, the Lakers went on an 11-0 run for their largest lead of the game, a run that Sacramento never recovered from.
That play, however, was one of just a myriad of moments in which Sacramento failed to capitalize. Earlier in the game, another fastbreak was ruined when Tyreke Evans didn't bother to control the ball before trying to move with it. Point blank layups were missed by multiple guards. Marcus Thornton turned the ball over and then gave up a clear-path foul. Patrick Patterson, who had a hot hand for much of the game, didn't see nearly as many offensive touches as he should have, finishing fourth (and almost fifth if Toney Douglas had played much longer) in field goal attempts.
The Kings are not yet a team that knows how to play smart basketball. Too often, they make plays more difficult than they need to be.
The Lakers had some missteps of their own of course, but far fewer. Dwight Howard was the defensive presence of years past once again, ruling the glass (17 rebounds) and controlling the paint (5 blocks). I felt that his presence alone cost the Kings more points than any of his blocks. A few of his blocks ended up resulting in points for the Kings anyway, but there were many possessions where Sacramento overcompensated on shots because he was near the basket. Former King Metta World Peace had a vintage performance as well, scoring 22 points on just 13 shots, overpowering the smaller Sacramento defenders.
Los Angeles also got to the line a lot more than the Kings (29 attempts to 8 attempts). That wasn't referee favoritism either, the Lakers were the more aggressive team, and the aggressive teams get the calls.
The Kings will have to bounce back against a much tougher opponent, as the other residents of Staples Center come to visit Sacramento on Tuesday. The Kings have played the Clippers twice this season already, and have lost by a combined 47 points. They have their work cut out for them.
For the opponent's perspective, visit Silver Screen and Roll.