LOS ANGELES—The Lakers surprised the NBA when they started the season playing well and winning games. After sinking to the bottom of the league, they’re surprising the NBA again by ending the season playing well and winning games. The Lakers beat the Kings in a closely contested game and despite being eliminated from the playoffs they’re finding ways to win and have fun.
”They are having fun and they are competing,” said head coach Luke Walton of his players. “When we were playing well early in the year, that is what we were doing. Losing took that from us, and we’ve found it again for the last couple of games.”
In a battle with the two worst teams in the West Division, the Lakers came out on top, and earned their third straight victory. The win was a result of 23 turnovers by the Sacramento Kings, a clutch defensive play from Corey Brewer and a game high 25 points on 10-14 shooting from Julius Randle. The young forward seemed to have benefited from the presence of his old coach at Kentucky. John Calipari sat in the crowd as his former standout forward played, and Randle took notice.
“That’s my guy,” Randle said. “He’s always giving me the utmost confidence. When I got here in the NBA he just texted me the things that he saw when he watched me play. He’s always had my back.”
Although the game ended up being a thriller, with 17 lead changes and 11 ties, it looked as if the Kings would pull away early. They jumped to a 31-18 first quarter lead, but that was erased when the Lakers completed a 23-6 second quarter run, entering halftime only down one.
In the third quarter Randle began to make his mark on the game, scoring 13 points in the period. Still, the Lakers entered the fourth and final period down one. After trading leads throughout much of the second half, the Lakers were able to seal the game with five seconds left. With the score 96-94 in favor of the Lakers, Buddy Heild of the Kings tried in-bounding the ball, but Corey Brewer wasn’t having any of that. As Heild attempted to throw the ball in Brewer soared and stole the ball right out of the air. He proceeded to nail both his free throws, thereby putting the nail in the coffin for the Kings.
The Lakers are finding ways to win close games at an inconvenient time considering the more they win the less chance they will be able to keep their first round draft pick. Nevertheless, the players insist that tanking is just something they won’t do.
“We don’t believe in (tanking),” said Randle. “The basketball gods would come back to haunt us.”
Next up the Lakers will play the Minnesota Timberwolves at home on Sunday, April 9.