The streak is over. After dropping five in a row and nine out of 10, the Sacramento Kings stepped up Tuesday night against the Los Angeles Lakers at the Staples Center and got back in win column by a final of 106-98.
“It’s good to get our funk off the losing streak and get some joy back in our locker room and go home tomorrow and hopefully make another step in a good direction,” George Karl told reporters following the game.
On most nights it’s DeMarcus Cousins from start to finish, but the big man got off to a slow start and his teammates picked him up. He still managed to drop in 22 points and grab eight rebounds, but he did so on just 4-of-10 shooting from the field.
Every once in awhile someone other than Cousins gets to make an impact on the outcome of a Kings win. Playing in front of his hometown crowd, Darren Collison had a pep in his step. The veteran guard tied for the team-high in scoring with 22 points, but his energy and defensive effort might have even been better.
“Our focus was to get off to a good start today,” Collison said. “Really have our defensive presence, have an impact on the game early on and everything else was going to take care of itself.”
[INSTANT REPLAY: Kings snap skid, sweep Lakers for first time]
Rookie Willie Cauley-Stein returned to the starting lineup after coming off the Kings’ bench in 10 of the team’s last 11 games. His impact was instantly felt on the defensive end where he pressured the ball early and often and forced the Lakers into silly mistakes.
“I thought our defensive presence was started by Darren and Willie,” Karl said. “Willie picked up full-court just kind of by himself and created maybe three turnovers by just the presence of him being in the backcourt.”
The Kings attacked the passing lanes and communicated on the defensive end. They held the Lakers to 44 percent shooting from the field and 19.2 percent from long range.
“If we play defense like that we can run with anybody,” Cauley-Stein said. “The pressure was good. They really couldn’t push it on us after made goals because we were up on them.”
After playing sparingly the last few weeks, the plan is to get Cauley-Stein plenty of minutes down the stretch. After posting 29 minutes against Utah on Sunday, Cauley-Stein played 32 against the Lakers, finishing with eight points, seven rebounds, a steal and a block.
With Collison and Cauley-Stein leading the defensive charge, Rudy Gay hit some big shots, scoring six of his 20 in the fourth quarter as the Kings clung to their lead.
The Kings improved to 26-40 with the win and swept the Lakers 4-0 in their season series for the first time since they moved to Los Angeles 68 years ago.
The Lakers are young and make plenty of mistakes, but Tuesday in LA, the Kings were a step quicker to the ball at almost every step. Sacramento set a new season-high with 17 steals as Los Angeles turned the ball over 22 times.
“I think most of it was because of the steals,” Karl said after the game. “We created a lot of deflections and a lot of easy fast breaks because of the turnovers. I felt our speed was really good.”
Omri Casspi and Rajon Rondo each finished with four steals and Cousins and Gay had three apiece. The Lakers 22 turnovers turned in 30 points for the Kings, many of which came on the fastbreak.
“Everybody had to be involved to create that many turnovers and get that many deflections,” Karl said.
Whether it was Collison, Casspi or Gay, the Kings scooped up the ball on one end and seconds later were finishing at the other end. Sacramento outscored LA 40-22 on the break, which is easily the stat of the night.
NO GOODBYES FOR KOBE:
No late game heroics. No fall away daggers. In his last game against the Sacramento Kings, future Hall of Famer Kobe Bryant took the night off.
“It might have been nice to give him a hug at the end of the game, especially if we would have won,” Karl said. “Yeah, it’s a little disappointment.”
Karl spent the last two decades getting beat up on by one of the NBA’s greats. Following practice on Monday he said that Kobe, Magic Johnson and LeBron James are the three players that have tormented him the most during his time in the league. But that doesn’t mean that you don’t want to face him one more time.
Collison spoke fondly of Bryant as well. The Southern California native grew up looking up to the Lakers star and watching him leave the game at the end of the season is bitter-sweet.
“I’ve been watching him since I was a little boy,” Collison said. “He’s right in my backyard. My parents got the chance to get me tickets so I could go to the game. I saw him when he first came into the league as a rookie and he’s been phenomenal ever sense.”
“Kobe means so much, not just to the LA community, but to the basketball world,” Collison added. “He put his imprint on the game.”