Coach Mike D'Antoni may be somewhat wobbly on his surgically replaced knee, but the Los Angeles Lakers seem to be finding their stride.Another meeting with the Sacramento Kings may keep their run going.Coming off D'Antoni's winning debut on the bench, the Lakers look to continue their surge Wednesday night when they try to send the Kings to a sixth consecutive defeat.Los Angeles (6-5) named D'Antoni coach on Nov. 12 after firing Mike Brown following a 1-4 start. D'Antoni's debut, though, had been delayed due to recovery from knee replacement surgery, but he was finally on the sideline for Tuesday's 95-90 win over Brooklyn."With this team, there's no reason not to win every game," D'Antoni said. "That's our goal. It's not, 'Let's get two out of three.' We can win every game we play. ... I feel like we're the best team in the league. We've got the most talent, so they can do what they want. We've just got to keep perfecting things."While D'Antoni was not actively roaming the sidelines much in Tuesday's win, the Lakers have won five of six games since the coaching change, including a season-high three in a row."We're definitely playing with better flow," said forward Pau Gasol, who has 17 points in each of the last two games. "We're playing with more confidence, looser out there. We're playing together and moving the ball, just playing basketball and not really worrying about actions; just playing the game."Production from Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard is also helping.Bryant leads the NBA with 26.3 points per game, and Howard is among the leaders with 20.3 points and 11.7 rebounds. Both came up big in D'Antoni's debut, as Bryant scored 25 points - six coming in the final two minutes - while Howard contributed 23 with 15 boards.The All-Star center is pulling down an average of 14.6 rebounds over the past five games, including 18 with 23 points in a 103-90 victory over Sacramento (2-8) on Nov. 11.Bryant was held to 20 points in that meeting, but he's averaged 33.3 points in his last 13 games at Sleep Train Arena.The Lakers, though, have lost the last two visits, including last season's finale on April 26 when Bryant was rested ahead of the playoffs.The Kings are averaging 89.6 points during a five-game slide that continued with Sunday's 99-90 loss to the Nets. Coach Keith Smart tried to stop the skid by starting Aaron Brooks at the point and John Salmons at forward, but they combined for six points and seven rebounds."Overall, when you make some changes like we have it's hard, but they were smiling for the most part," Smart said. "This is an adjustment period. That's something we have to go through to get out team turned around."DeMarcus Cousins is trying to do his part, leading Sacramento with 17.8 points per game and 10.3 boards. The center scored 23 of his season-high 29 points in the second half Sunday, bouncing back from a nine-point effort on 4 of 15 shooting in a loss to Atlanta on Thursday in his return from a two-game suspension.The team-imposed ban forced him to miss the Nov. 11 loss to Los Angeles.
SACRAMENTO -- Sometimes a game means a little bit more than just one of 82. For Dave Joerger, beating his former team is gratifying, whether he wants to admit it or not, especially when that team is in the middle of major playoff push.
“I know he really wanted that one, you could tell before and during the game,” veteran point guard Darren Collison said of his head coach after the Kings’ 91-90 over the Memphis Grizzlies. “Anytime you go against your former team it definitely means a lot.”
Everyone noticed the change in Joerger. Be it in film prep or in walk-through, something was different. Despite the playoff chase being over, Joerger turned to his veterans and they delivered in the clutch.
“Anytime you play against your former team, whether it be a coach or a player, you have a little more energy, you have a little more incentive to win,” Anthony Tolliver said.
Ten Kings players saw court time, but both Skal Labissiere and Langston Galloway played sparingly as Joerger tightened his rotation. All five starters played 30 minutes or more, with Collison seeing a team-high 37 minutes.
The veteran point guard finished with a game-high 23 points and seven assists in the win. His free throws with 5.7 seconds remaining pushed the Kings into the lead and Memphis’ last ditch effort to win the game at the buzzer rimmed out.
“The more games we win, it’s going to be better for these young guys,” Collison said. “It’s very hard to win in this league and winning is contagious.”
This was the second straight victory for Sacramento after dropping four in a row. The team is now 5-12 since the All-Star break and they are 4-4 over their last eight games.
“We’re competing and that’s the biggest thing - we’re not laying down,” Willie Cauley-Stein said. “Even though we’re not in the playoff race, we’re playing like we’re in the playoff race and that’s bigtime.”
Cauley-Stein continued his strong play since the break. The second-year big posted 12 points, grabbed nine rebounds and dished out three assists in 33 minutes. He played solid defense on veteran Zach Randolph down the stretch.
It was a team effort. Four players scored in double-figures, including rookie Buddy Hield, who scored 14 points and grabbed four rebounds. Big man Kosta Koufos added 11 points, five rebounds and three blocks, while Ty Lawson finished with 10 points in 19 minutes of action.
Following the game, Joerger alluded to this being the final time we will see many of the veterans playing major minutes together. With just eight games remaining in the season, it’s time to give the young core the reigns and let them show what they can do.
“This was maybe our last stand for the year as far as you’re probably not going to see all those veterans play together for the rest of the season,” said Joerger. “It’s at home, it’s a great opportunity. The guys went out there and laid it all on the line.”
The Kings return to their home court on Wednesday when the Utah Jazz roll through Golden 1 Center. Of their remaining eight games on the schedule, Sacramento has four home contests and four on the road. They’ll finish the 2016-17 season on April 12 in Los Angeles against the Clippers.
SACRAMENTO -- The Sacramento Kings aren’t done fighting yet. In front of their home crowd, they pulled off their second consecutive shocker, this time dispatching the Memphis Grizzlies in dramatic fashion by the final of 91-90.
Darren Collison battled Mike Conley Jr. all night long at the point guard position. After scoring 19 against the Clippers on Sunday, Collison hit the Grizzlies for 23 points on 8-of-13 shooting and added a team-high seven assists. His free throw with 5.7 seconds remaining proved to be the game winner.
Rookie Buddy Hield continued his hot shooting, scoring 14 points on 5-for-12 shooting. The 23-year-old shooting guard is quickly establishing himself as a big time scoring option for the Kings moving forward.
Willie Cauley-Stein chipped in 12 points, nine rebounds and three assists. 7-footer Kosta Koufos found success against his former team, finishing with 11 points, five rebounds and three blocks before fouling out late.
Ty Lawson led the second unit with 10 points, while Anthony Tolliver went 4-of-7 from the field for nine points.
Conley Jr. received the biggest contract in NBA history during the offseason and he showed why Monday against the Kings. The veteran point guard dropped in 22 points and dished out nine assists as the Grizzlies fell to 40-34 on the season.
35-year-old big man Zach Randolph went to work in the post. The 16-year NBA vet dropped in 17 points and grabbed 15 rebounds, schooling the Kings frontline with the left-handed flip early in the game.
Brandan Wright came off the bench to score 11 points on 5-of-7 shooting and Troy Daniels added 10 points.
Collison is heating up. Over his last two games, the veteran guard has scored 42 points on 16-for-24 shooting and kept his team in the ballgame.
Despite leading by eight on multiple occasions in the fourth quarter, Sacramento couldn’t close the door on the Grizzlies. Collison drew a foul with 5.7 remaining and his team trailing by one. He knocked down both freebies and Randolph missed a 3-point attempt at the buzzer to help the Kings improve to 29-45 on the season.
Arron Afflalo missed the game due to a personal matter and Tyreke Evans sat for scheduled rest. Rookie Malachi Richardson is officially out for the season with a right hamstring thickness tear. Rudy Gay is out for the year with a torn left Achilles.
The Kings are back at it Wednesday night at Golden 1 Center when the Utah Jazz roll through Sacramento. Following the matchup with Utah, the Kings travel to New Orleans to face former King DeMarcus Cousins on Friday evening.