PREVIEW: Short-handed Los Angeles Lakers visit stumbling Kings

Feb 25, 2021; New York, New York, USA; Sacramento Kings forward Marvin Bagley III (35) shoots against the New York Knicks in the first half at Madison Square Garden. Mandatory Credit: John Minchillo/POOL PHOTOS-USA TODAY Sports

The Los Angeles Lakers opened the season with a scintillating 21-6 record that was befitting of an NBA championship squad looking to defend its title.

However, the Lakers have lost six of their past nine games. They will look to shake out of their slump when they visit the Sacramento Kings on Wednesday night.

The contest is Los Angeles’ final game before the All-Star break and comes one night after the Lakers were outclassed by the visiting Phoenix Suns in a 114-104 loss.

LeBron James scored 38 points on 16-of-24 shooting, but the absence of Anthony Davis (Achilles, calf) was again apparent as the Lakers fell by double digits for the fourth time in the six recent setbacks. Los Angeles is 3-5 in the eight games Davis has missed.

The short-handed Lakers also were without Kyle Kuzma (heel) and Marc Gasol (health and safety protocols). Gasol will be out again Wednesday, while the Lakers are hoping Kuzma will return after he was scratched following pregame warmups on Tuesday.

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Regardless, James will need more help on the second end of the back-to-back.

Starting guards Dennis Schroder (6 of 17) and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope (1 of 7) both had poor shooting nights against Phoenix.

With Gasol out, Montrezl Harrell moved into the starting lineup and was a nonfactor with six points and two rebounds. Harrell played only 19 minutes, because coach Frank Vogel shifted toward a smaller lineup during the game to contend with Phoenix’s pack of athletes.

“There are situations where sometimes a small lineup might be better than him out there,” Vogel said of Harrell. “That’s what we thought would win the game. It didn’t work. Those are the tough decisions you make throughout the season.”

Markieff Morris scored 12 points on 5-of-6 shooting against the Suns, but his postgame comments pointed to the notion that the Lakers are badly looking for the All-Star break to arrive.

“I’m mentally drained,” Morris said. “I know a lot of guys on my team are mentally drained, but that’s not an excuse.”

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The Kings have it even worse. They have dropped 10 of their past 11 games, and the latest setback surely qualifies as a colossal collapse.

Sacramento held an eight-point lead over the visiting Charlotte Hornets with a minute left on Sunday, but the Kings missed five of six free throws down the stretch and were outscored 12-3 to fall 127-126.

“We’ve got to have that one,” Kings forward Marvin Bagley III said afterward. “Down the stretch, I missed a couple free throws that could have put the game away. We missed free throws that could have put the game away. That’s a bad one.”

In addition to Bagley, point guard De’Aaron Fox also missed two key foul shots and shooting guard Buddy Hield spilt a pair. The misses turned into a disaster when Charlotte’s Malik Monk converted a three-point play with 1.4 seconds left to send the Kings to a demoralizing defeat.

“We made some mistakes,” Sacramento coach Luke Walton said. “That’s a painful loss, I feel for our guys. …

“The mistakes cost us for sure, big time. But even with all that, you’ve got to step up and knock down free throws or it doesn’t get to that.”

Hield scored a season-best 30 points and matched season bests of seven assists and eight 3-pointers. Hield raised his career 3-pointer total to 1,001, becoming the fastest in NBA history (350 games) to reach 1,000.

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Hield tweaked his right ankle late in the game and is listed as questionable for Wednesday’s game. Rookie Tyrese Haliburton (calf) will miss this third straight game and Hassan Whiteside (health and safety protocols) will sit out for the fifth consecutive contest.

The Kings snapped a four-game losing streak to the Lakers with a 136-122 victory on Aug. 13 in the NBA bubble near Orlando.

–Field Level Media