Two teams embarking on a youth movement went head-to-head Friday night at Staples Center. The Sacramento Kings, armed with plenty of first and second-year players, stumbled down the stretch to a Los Angeles Lakers team that boasts seven hoopsters born in 1993 or later. In the end, the home team managed a 98-94 win, sending the Kings to their 48th defeat of the season.
Los Angeles officially shut down veterans Luol Deng, Timofey Mozgov and Nick Young a while ago, leaving a young core of players to fend for themselves.
Sacramento is in a similar situation. They have rotated their veterans in and out of the lineup for the last few weeks while the youth play major minutes.
The game went down to the wire, with both teams exchanging hoops in the final minutes. A costly turnover hurt the Kings chances late and the Lakers escaped with a win.
“We fought, when they made their run, we responded back,” rookie Buddy Hield told media following the game. “It shows how much potential we have. It kinda sucks and it kinda of hurts, not executing on that play.”
Hield didn’t read the defense on an inbounds pass with the Kings trailing by two and five seconds remaining in the game. Veteran Corey Brewer stepped in and stole the pass, effectively ending the game.
“It’s good for them,” Dave Joerger said of the crunch time battle. “We work on it, we spend time on it and then you get these opportunities and it’s good for them.”
Playing against fellow 2016 first rounder Brandon Ingram, Hield managed to score 17 points on 7-of-14 shooting, but his four turnovers stand out. Ingram finished with 14 points on 6-of-14 shooting in the Lakers win.
At least one of the Kings’ young players is getting the veteran treatment. Second-year big man Willie Cauley-Stein came out hot, scoring 14 points on 6-of-11 shooting through the mid-third quarter. He added seven rebounds and three blocks in just 23 minutes of action as he sat during the fourth quarter and watched the rookies go to work.
“I’m just getting comfortable, starting to find my pace and starting to get real confident on both sides of the floor,” Cauley-Stein told reporters following the game. “It’s going to be real interesting and I’m excited for what’s to come.”
The eccentric 7-footer out of the University of Kentucky laid out his summer plans during postgame, including an unconventional course he has decided to partake in.
“I plan on doing this Navy Seals training for the first six weeks,” Cauley-Stein said.
With an elongated summer, Cauley-Stein will have plenty of time to get back to basketball basics. Going through something like Seal training can only help the wiry big get stronger and build his endurance.
Sacramento’s lack of strength in the post was on full display all night. The Lakers scored 60 points in the paint and came away with 16 offensive rebounds. Julius Randle bullied the Kings in the post, coming away with 25 points and six rebounds, five of which were on the offensives end.
“We turned the ball over 23 times, they threw us around in the paint and they got off 16 offensive rebounds,” Joerger said. “And maybe we aren’t in that situation down the stretch.”
Skal Labissiere, like Cauley-Stein, understands he has to get stronger over the summer. The rookie forward finished the night with 19 points on 8-of-13 shooting, but he managed just three rebounds in 33 minutes of action.
19-year-old Georgios Papagiannis scored 10 points and grabbed 10 rebounds as he continues to show improvement late in the season. Veteran point guard Darren Collison scored 15 points, dished out 10 assists and grabbed five rebounds.
The loss snapped the Kings two-game win streak and dropped them to 31-48 on the season. They return home to Sacramento for a Sunday matinee against the Houston Rockets at Golden 1 Center.