16 years removed from the last time these two franchises met in the post-season, the Sacramento Kings will play the Los Angeles Lakers tonight in smoky Sacramento. And a full decade-and-a-half removed from that legendary series, the question will inevitably come up again; are these two teams still rivals? And if we’re honest—probably not? These two teams have different ceilings, different goals, and different expectations this season. One team is surging in the Western Conference playoff standings, led by an All-Time GOAT-caliber leader and a massive collection of emerging young talent. The other squad is a constant lottery loser struggling to find cohesiveness on the floor, and seems destined for another playoff-less season. But I guess when that loser squad has added LeBron James, the Lakers (5-6) could at least keep the game interesting for the surging Kings (7-5).
Jokes aside, this one matters. Both teams are eager to prove to the world who they are, and for the Kings and Kings fans, there no better way to showcase this new electric Sacramento offense than by Beating L.A. Meanwhile, the Lakers are trying to hit .500 for the first time this season, and prove that their roster really can win around LeBron. A win in Sacramento would actually be one of the Lakers’ best wins of the season (behind a home win against Denver and a road win in Portland)... who possibly have expected that a month ago?
Kings, Lakers. This one matters.
When: Friday, November 10th; 7 pm PST
Where: Golden 1 Center, Sacramento, CA
Radio: KHTK Sports 1140 AM
To Duck, or Not to Duck? That is the Ducking Question
Since joining the league last year, De’Aaron Fox has played the Lakers seven times in Summer League, Preseason, and Regular Season games. Lonzo Ball has suited up just twice in those games due to an assortment of injuries, and could miss tonight due to a tweaked ankle.
On one hand, this narrative—born from the lasting embers of the scorching beatdown Fox delivered against Ball and his UCLA squad in the 2017 Sweet Sixteen—is hilarious, and will never not be so.
On the other hand, this sucks. The Fox/Lonzo draft selections last year were supposed to be the newest chapter in this eternal rivalry, a chance for two elite point guard prospects to duel it out four or more times a year for the pride of their cities and supremacy of the state of California (because there isn’t another team out there that can claim dominance of the golden state, nope nope nope). They play different styles—Fox runs with lightning bursting out of his Nikes, while Lonzo plays his own unique, quirky, high-IQ style in his... whatever monstrosity these shoes are. And they serve different roles—Fox is the entirety of the Kings engine, while Lonzo has to figure out how to thrive with LeBron freaking James (and Rajon “people somehow still think I’m great” Rondo). But in the midst of Fox’s breakout season (18 PPG, 7.5 APG, 4.3 RPG, and a 58.2% true shooting percentage), it truly would suck to miss another match-up against Lonzo, who is quickly getting underrated and underappreciated as a long-term prospect. Ban injuries. Let’s get these two on the court.
The Kings’ New Reign
LeBron James descended on the City of Angeles in July, blessing a otherwise rebuilding Lakers roster with the chance to retool around his sheer brilliance. And the front office pairing of Rob Pelinka and Magic Johnson decided the retooling needed to focus around playmakers—LeBron, Ball, Rondo, and Lance freaking Stephenson—and pray that the young guns of Brandon Ingram, Kyle Kuzma, and Josh Hart could provide the floor spacing needed to make it work. So far, the results have been “...Eh.” The Lakers are 3rd in points, 3rd in pace, and 7th in offensive rating... but they’re 20th in assist rate, 20th in 3PM per game, and 23rd in defensive rating. Hart is far-and-away the Lakers best floor spacer (45% from deep on 5 3PA per game), followed by... LONZO?! (38.8% on 4.5 3PA per game). Meanwhile, LeBron (29.5% on 5.5 3PA per game) and Kuzma (31.1% on 5.5 3PA per game) struggle to hit from deep, and they’re not running quite as many deep looks for Ingram yet (40% on 2 3PA per game).
On the flipside, the Kings don’t have a defensive lineup that can really slow down LeBron. There’s only a few of those league-wide, but aside from Iman Shumpert, there aren’t any Kings who are ready to test LeBron on the defensive end. As long as the Kings hamper the Lakers young guys (especially Hart’s deep shot!), win the transition battle, and keep up on the glass (the Kings and Lakers are 16th and 17th in the league for rebounds per game, respectively), they can survive a LeBron onslaught.
The Lakers will eventually figure out who and what they are, and when what they are is a LeBron led-team, it’s hard to predict true failure—but this early season inconsistency is already making the impatient front office a bit jittery. Losing to this upstart Kings squad would be a lot worse today than it would have a year ago, sans LeBron and sans LeBron-driven expectations. And when the Kings are starting to beat the teams they should beat...tonight’s contest will be a great indication of just how real this Kings team is.
De’Aaron Fox dominates, Bogdan Bogdanovic helps the Kings weather this Nemanja Bjelica slump, Buddy Hield shows the Lakers what a floor spacer looks like, and Sacramento survives the LeBron onslaught.
Kings 125, Lakers 120