Overcoming the Sacramento Kings fast start, the Los Angeles Lakers went on to defeat their one time nemesis at Arco Arena, 122-104. The Kings came out firing to start the game, connecting on their first 11-15 shots. But they also allowed the Lakers to score at will and after one period, led 37-31. The Lakers turned up the defensive pressure in the second quarter and outscored the Kings 40-18 to take a commanding 71-55 lead at halftime. Twenty-two of those points came from a resurgent Bench Mob, led by Shannon Brown (9 points) and Luke Walton (11 points, 9 assists). The Kings continued to fire away and began whittling away at the Lakers lead, drawing to within 10 at the end of three. But the Lakers went on a 13-2 run to start the 4th quarter and never looked back. Pau Gasol (26 points, 12 rebounds) was the lone starter left in the game while Kobe Bryant (22 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists), Trevor Ariza (14 points, 2 steals), and Lamar Odom (15 points, 11 rebounds) were all done for the night.
The bench continued to play efficiently, outscoring the Kings 26-18 in the final period. Sasha Vujacic (12 points) shocked the entire Lakers bench with the play of the night. He cut hard down the lane from the free throw line, was fed a perfect pass from DJ Mbenga, and hammered home a facial on two Kings defenders. Not known for his leaping ability, or his penchant for driving to the hoop, Sasha nonetheless posterized his opponent and tried not to notice the commotion he caused on the sidelines. Fish, Kobe, Pau, and the entire team were falling all over themselves in disbelief. And finally, when there was a break in the action, they mobbed him as he strode casually back to the bench. The Bench Mob ended the game outscoring the Kings, 42-22. The (16-61) last place Kings were led by Spencer Hawes (21 points, 15 rebounds), Francisco Garcia (19 points) and Jason Thompson (18 points, 11 rebounds). The Lakers committed only 6 turnovers in the game and stole the ball 11 times. They also out-rebounded the Kings 50-45 and shot the ball well at 51%, while limiting the Kings to only 44% shooting. The Lakers (62-16) now trail the Cleveland Cavaliers (62-15) by half a game for the best record in the league.
dEDGE Post Scriptum
Wasn’t it only yesterday that Kings fans were chanting “Beat LA! Beat LA!”? Tonight’s game bore little resemblance to battles of the past as Arco Arena was a sea of Lakers purple and gold. The boos quickly silenced a “Beat LA!” chant early in the game, and was replaced by a serenade of “M-V-P! M-V-P!” as Kobe Bryant shot from the free throw line. Gone are hated foes such as C-Webb, Mike Bibby, Peja, Turkoglu, and the flopper himself, Vlade Divac. But there was one original member present, back-up PG Bobby “Action” Jackson. Jackson was sent back to the Kings from Houston as part of the Ron Artest trade. Now in his 12th season, his return to Sacramento is more nostalgia and salary flotsam than anything else. The former Sixth Man Award recipient nonetheless provides veteran leadership to a young and raw Kings squad. He mentors leading scorer, Kevin Martin, providing valuable lessons and pointers that he himself learned along the way.
I’m sure it was difficult for him to listen to the chants of “MVP” for the Lakers’ Kobe Bryant. And I’m sure he still looks fondly back on the good ol’ days when the Kings were tormenting the league and challenging the Lakers for the Western Conference crown. The Kings now rank among the lower rungs in NBA crowd attendance. Not long ago, sellouts were the norm in Cow-town and the city fervently supported them. But they have fallen on hard times as of late, owners of the worst record in basketball and perennial lottery participants. Owners Joe and Gavin Maloof seem to be more focused on the bright lights of Las Vegas than on dimly-lit Sacramento. Gutting their team in hopes of relocating to Sin City, and even helping to host the NBA All-Star game there recently, the NBA Board of Governors to this day, steadfastly refuse to allow a franchise to claim Las Vegas as home. In light of referee Tim Donaghy’s betting scandal, it doesn’t appear that the NBA will budge on this matter any time soon. Now the Maloofs are focusing on a new arena deal, aided by local businesses and taxpayers dollars. New Mayor, Kevin Johnson (yes, former Phoenix Suns PG) has spoken with the Maloofs on getting a deal done and has stressed how important it is to keep the Kings in Sacramento. In the current economic crisis, I’m not sure a deal can get done to satisfy either party. The Maloofs may just get their wish granted and be allowed to relocate.
What the Kings need is more than brand new arena or a new shiny location. They need quality players capable of competing at a high level. Role players or washed up veterans won’t get it done. They need to infuse talented superstars back into their core line-up. They need a high profile head coach ready to take on the challenge of reestablishing this franchise. And most of all, they need to regain the support and fervor of the city that once stood by them. It’s no fun picking on a loser. There’s no satisfaction in beating up on one either. And it’s sure not any fun calling them Queens when no one even gets mad anymore.