Sacramento Kings coach Dave Joerger spoke for 86 seconds during his pregame news conference. The NBA mandates that head coaches be available for 15 minutes before every game, but the questions had run out.
“I can give you some more stuff,” Joerger said playfully after no questions followed a pause. “I mean, it’s sunny out, it’s spring, it smells like March Madness, Lent and NBA playoffs. Get the seeding, get it done. Exciting times. Nothing else?”
He left singing a few bars of Randy Newman’s “I Love L.A.”
The Lakers (32-41) got to hear much more of the song a few hours later when they beat the Kings 111-106. Sunday’s win broke a five-game losing streak in their first game since officially being eliminated from the playoffs. While the Kings (36-37) aren’t technically out yet, they’re 61/2 games out of the eighth and final playoff spot in the West.
LeBron James notched his eighth triple-double of the season with 29 points, 11 rebounds and 11 assists and made all six free throws he attempted in the final 38 seconds.
“I’ve always respected the basketball gods,” James said. “If I’m on the floor I’ve got to try to play as hard as I can, or do something to affect the game and not cheat the game, so if I’m on the floor, if I’m in uniform, then I’ve got to try to make things happen. Not saying I’m going to make every shot, not saying I’m going to make every play or not have any turnovers, but just try to make an impact on the game.”
The Lakers played without Lonzo Ball (ankle sprain), Brandon Ingram (blood clot), Josh Hart (tendinitis) Mike Muscala (tendinitis) and Reggie Bullock (plantar fasciitis). And while little was at stake in the grand scheme of things, there were small moments for the players who did play to celebrate.
Kyle Kuzma got hot in the third quarter and scored 21 of his 29 points on seven-for-eight shooting. That helped the Lakers open a 17-point lead and take control of the game.
Scott Machado got his first playing time with the Lakers in the third quarter, entering the game to enthusiastic cheers from the Laker Girls. The 28-year-old point guard from Iona was signed to a 10-day contract Thursday.
JaVale McGee followed up his career-best 33-point, 20-rebound game by scoring 17 points, making all eight of his shots, with 14 rebounds.
“It’s just nice to feel good,” coach Luke Walton said. “I mean the guys work really hard, they do. They’ve been working really hard on this last road trip. They’ve been working really hard when we do bring them into practice, though we’re down in bodies. We’re on them all the time about working to a certain standard. That’s physically and mentally tough at this point in the season when you’re out of the playoffs.”
Even the in-game entertainment had its moment. Between the third and fourth quarters, a fan named Justin Jimenez made a half-court shot to win $45,000. He was the third fan to win that contest in the last month. The first won $100,000 and the second won $25,000 only a game later.
It hasn’t been a kind month for the Lakers. Since that first half-court-shot winner, they’ve won three games, and they faded from contention by losing 10 of their first 11 games in March.
Despite Kuzma’s third-quarter heroics and James’ inspired passing and impressive numbers, the Kings fought back in the fourth quarter. The Lakers had two possessions end with shot-clock violations in the final two minutes while holding just a four-point lead, but James kept the Kings at bay from the line.
“We didn’t score and that didn’t help,” said Joerger, whose team made only 37.5% of its shots. “… We just didn’t come out and play with enough pop.”