LeBron James, Lakers take advantage of defenseless Kings in tough loss

Defense was optional.

That was the motto the Kings and the LeBron James-led Los Angeles Lakers lived by at Golden 1 Center on Saturday night in Sacramento’s 136-134 loss.

And Kings coach Mike Brown, who prides himself on establishing a defensive identity with Sacramento, was understandably displeased with his team’s effort.

“The bottom line is, obviously, we have to figure out, somehow, someway, to stop people,” Brown told reporters postgame. “Defensively, we are not good at all.

“To have a team come in here and score 136 points on 61 percent shooting and 70 points in the paint, that’s not good.”

Fans watching this game knew the Kings (20-18) and the Lakers (19-21) were in for a shootout when both squads put up 73 points in the first half alone. Los Angeles shot 62.8 percent from the field, 69.2 percent from the 3-point line and 83.3 percent from the stripe in the first half.

Typically, halftime allows teams to regroup, be it on the defensive or offensive end. For the Kings, however, the defensive effort remained the same in the second half.

Although the Lakers failed to hit a 3-pointer in the final 24 minutes, Los Angeles did score 38 of its 70 points in the paint in the second half, which Brown said was “tough to swallow.” What’s more, the Lakers shot 59 percent from the field and 81 percent from the free-throw line.

Despite the Lakers failing to hit a 3-pointer in the second half, the game came down to the wire in the final moments of the fourth quarter. Although Kings star De’Aaron Fox scored 17 of his game-high 34 points in the final 12 minutes, the game came down to two crucial plays.

First, Fox was called for a foul on Lakers guard Dennis Schroeder as the latter attempted to drive to the basket.

After review, the officiating crew deemed the foul to be correct and awarded Schroeder two free throws, which he made to give the Lakers a two-point lead.

With time being of the essence, Fox inbounded the ball and just passed half-court before heaving the potential game-winner. However, it appeared Lakers guard Russell Westbrook made contact with Fox’s arm on the follow-through, but no foul was called.

Fox angrily stormed off the court as the Lakers stole the win. Though the Kings matched the Lakers at every step offensively, Kings center Domantas Sabonis noted the team, collectively, has to do a better job of stopping opponents.

“Coaches said they made zero 3s in the second half,” Sabonis told reporters postgame. “We got to be aware of that and force them to kick it out and be early, help, be in the paint, make them pass it, make them do something different and we just weren’t able to do that.”

Aside from James’ production — 37 points, eight rebounds and seven assists in 37 minutes — Lakers center Thomas Bryant also had a big game, matching Sabonis at every turn.

In a performance Sabonis called “great,” Bryant had 29 points and 14 rebounds with one block and one steal while Sabonis picked up 25 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists, his 16th consecutive double-double, a Kings franchise record.

“He was knocking down shots in the short roll, getting offensive rebounds late game where he converted them as paint points and that definitely hurt us,” Sabonis said. “We have to be sharper.”

Overall, Los Angeles shot 61 percent from the field, 42.9 percent from 3-point range and 81.8 percent from the free-throw line. The Lakers also outscored the Kings 70 to 48 in points in the paint.

Not counting the Kings’ 10-point loss to the Memphis Grizzlies on Jan. 1, Sacramento’s last five games have been decided by an average of 1.8 points.

In those close games, Sacramento is 3-2, which Sabonis believes is a good learning experience for this young Kings squad and Fox, who arguably has been the best player in the fourth quarter this season.

“He knows we need him in crunch time, he can get any shot he wants. He was great again tonight,” Sabonis added. “All of us, collectively, had to do a better job on the defensive end and we would’ve got this win.”

In the end, while Brown understands the Kings can outscore any team in the NBA, there are times when defense is a necessity. Brown is hoping the Kings can right the ship defensively sooner rather than later.

“Somehow, someway, we have to figure out, collectively as a group, how to defend. But more importantly than that, we have to commit to defending for 48 minutes because let’s face it, we can score, but we’re terrible defensively ,” Brown concluded.

RELATED: Huerter, Mitchell admit Kings’ mental mistakes costly vs. Hawks

The Kings’ latest loss has to sting, especially after Sacramento lost a winnable game to the Atlanta Hawks on Jan. 4 because of mental mistakes.

Sacramento’s next chance to prove that it has changed its defensive ways will be on Jan. 9, when the Orlando Magic visits Golden 1 Center for the final game of the two-game season series between the two teams.

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