On his 34th birthday, the Lakers gave LeBron James the gift of promise.
They might be OK until he gets back. They might even win a couple of games.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope scored 19 of his team-high 26 points in the second half Sunday and the Lakers beat the Sacramento Kings 121-114. Brandon Ingram played one of his most complete games of the year with 21 points, nine assists and seven rebounds, making nine of 13 shots.
“I just think I did a better job of getting my teammates involved,” Ingram said. “I know when they feel comfortable on the basketball floor, it gives us a better chance to win at the end of the game. I think they’re ready to take the shots. They down and ready and they feel comfortable behind the three, getting into the lane and that’s what we saw from Josh Hart and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope and Kuz [Kyle Kuzma] is always going to score the basketball.”
JaVale McGee returned for the first time since pneumonia caused him to miss seven games and chipped in eight points and 12 rebounds in 24 minutes.
It was the first game the Lakers (21-16) won without James after dropping their previous two, including a 117-116 heartbreaker at Sacramento on a buzzer-beating three.
“We dialed it up defensively,” Hart said. “We cut back on offensive rebounds and second-chance points. I think that was the biggest thing. It was a big maturity game for us. They got one that we should’ve had [Thursday] and then we were up 10 to the Clippers last game. So we knew we had to bounce back. We had to grow up, man up and take defense personal and execute on offense.”
James, who suffered a strained groin in the third quarter of the Lakers’ Christmas Day win at Golden State, arrived early in the first quarter with Rajon Rondo, and two rookies scurried to give up their seats on the bench. That’s where James celebrated his 34th, smiling when the Staples Center videoboard wished him a happy birthday.
Neither team produced inspired defensive efforts, especially in the first half. The Kings (19-17) scored 68 points by halftime, making nearly 60% of their shots and more than 50% of their three-point attempts.
While the Lakers kept pace, too many turnovers and missed fast-break opportunities and too much general sloppiness kept the Kings a few steps ahead. The Kings had 19 fast-break points in the first half while the Lakers had only five.
Hart helped carry the Lakers early. He scored 17 of his 22 points in the first half on six-of-nine shooting while making three three-pointers. He added two assists, two rebounds and a steal and committed only one foul. He drew two and-one opportunities, smiling and waving at courtside cameras after the second.
The Lakers went on an 11-0 run in the third quarter to tie the game at 85. A three-pointer by Caldwell-Pope, who scored 12 points in the third quarter, cut the Kings’ lead to one, but a three-pointer by Bogdan Bogdanovic gave the Kings a four-point cushion. Heading into the fourth quarter, the Lakers trailed 96-92.
Three days after Bogdanovic beat the Lakers, the Kings got no such heroics. Sacramento seemed poised to take a comfortable lead into the closing minutes behind point guard De’Aaron Fox (26 points), but the Lakers made a late push propelled by a 7-0 run by Ingram, caught up and took their first lead of the fourth quarter, 113-110, with 2:13 left on a three from Ingram.
“We finally started giving the type of effort we need to get stops,” Coach Luke Walton said. “… They had some open looks not go down for them. We got bailed out on a couple of those. I thought our defensive intensity finally [showed up] … we didn’t have it in the first three quarters tonight.”
The Lakers had a five-point lead when Ingram committed a late turnover that allowed the Kings to cut their deficit to three, but the Lakers hung on. Fox attempted a three-pointer with just over 30 seconds left, but the ball rattled out after flirting with the rim.