An old adversary jumped up and bit the Lakers.
It wasn’t the Boston Celtics or another injury in a season already filled with so many.
It was another loss to another team that won’t make playoffs, a season-long habit for the Lakers. The Sacramento Kings cut them down Wednesday with a freewheeling, score-at-will second half in a 125-116-victory in Sacramento.
The Lakers’ small-ball approach can be fun to watch with LeBron James at center, but their defense remains an issue — an ever-growing one as long as Anthony Davis remains sidelined with a sprained knee.
The Lakers allowed 70 points in the paint Wednesday, a whopping number for any team at any time. They also surrendered a 40-point third quarter that shifted the tilt of the game.
“We had a tough third quarter, obviously,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. "Second game in a row, defense let us down. We've got to figure out what we're doing there and be better in that situation."
It was the latest head-scratching setback for the Lakers (21-21), who actually led by 14 in the second quarter before falling back to .500.
There have been two losses to Oklahoma City, a triple-overtime setback to Sacramento and a loss to Memphis last month when the Grizzlies were without Ja Morant and Dillon Brooks.
The Lakers need to beat teams like Sacramento because there aren’t nearly enough games left against non-playoff teams.
In fact, the Lakers play at Denver on Saturday and then host Utah on Monday. Next weekend, they start a six-game road trip that includes tough match-ups in Miami, Brooklyn, Philadelphia and Charlotte.
There’s no doubt the Lakers are struggling. There’s also no doubt Russell Westbrook is in a slump.
He made only two of 14 shots against Sacramento and scored eight points. Before that, he was two for 12 last Saturday in a loss to Memphis.
“We’re working with Russ. He’s receiving our coaching, just trying to put him in positions to succeed,” Vogel said. “He’s just in a slump right now, finishing at the basket and [on] the perimeter.”
Westbrook recognized his recent shooting woes during a post-game interview with reporters. He chuckled when told the Kings’ in-house deejay played Foreigner’s song “Cold As Ice” while Westbrook was being introduced before the game.
“I’ll figure it out and that’s that,” Westbrook said of his skid, later adding that “I’ve got no excuses.”
LeBron James scored 35 points, breaking the 30-point barrier for the 10th time in the last 11 games. He also had help from Malik Monk (22 points) and rookie Austin Reaves (19 points).
Unfortunately for the Lakers, those were their only three players in double-figure scoring.
Sacramento (17-27) had six players in double figures, including De’Aaron Fox (29 points) and Harrison Barnes (23 points).
Davis wasn’t the only player who sat out for the Lakers. Carmelo Anthony was a late scratch because of a sore lower back.
Poor defense, inconsistent shooting and two key players sidelined — it all added up to a second consecutive loss after a modest four-game winning streak.
“It’s been an up-and-down season,” James said. “That’s why we’re at .500. You go from the injuries to [COVID-19] safety and health protocols. Our team is built on depth for the majority of the season. So far we haven’t had depth.”