For a moment, the lane to the basket was open. Anthony Davis closed it quickly.
The All-Star forward stonewalled Harrison Barnes’ drive for a potential game-tying layup at the buzzer as the Lakers held on for a 99-97 win over the Sacramento Kings at Staples Center on Friday.
The Lakers (10-2) overcame the loss of defensive stalwart Avery Bradley, who will miss the next week or two with a hairline fracture in his right leg, to hold the Kings to fewer than 100 points for the first time since Oct. 28. The Kings, who started the season with five straight losses, had won four of five.
For the team that prides itself on being the best defense in the NBA, it was fitting that Friday came down to Davis’ defensive moment.
“AD’s as good as anybody in the world at making that play,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said.
Led by former Lakers coach Luke Walton, the Kings tied the score late on a layup from Bogdan Bogdanovic, who hit a game-winning three against L.A. last season. But LeBron James drew a foul on Barnes and hit the go-ahead free throws with 5.5 seconds left. He finished with 29 points and 11 assists.
“It’s something I worked on extremely hard this offseason, getting my free throws better,” said James, who was a perfect 7-for-7 from the free-throw line. “To be in the position where I can make some clutch free throws for our ball club and AD coming with a clutch block on the end, it’s pretty cool.”
The 34-year-old forward seemed to turn back the clock at times as he helped the Lakers overcome a slow start.
James smashed a right-handed tomahawk dunk over Nemanja Bjelica in the first half and stared down the Kings forward with an icy look. James flexed both arms while lying on the court after scoring a layup through traffic in the third quarter and skipped up the floor after a three-pointer in the fourth that put the Lakers up by eight.
Davis, playing through lingering shoulder and ribs injuries, finished with 17 points on five-for-12 shooting with five rebounds and four blocks. He battled through relentless double teams on offense, but still remained active on defense.
“When the shot’s not falling, I try to do the other things to help the team win,” Davis said. “The team was trying to get me going; [I] just missed some shots and I tried to take it out on the defensive end.”
Without Bradley, the Lakers fell behind by as many as 13 in the first half. The Kings rained three-pointers, en route to shooting 41% behind the arc. The Lakers missed their first six shots from deep.
A three-pointer from Kyle Kuzma sparked the Lakers’ second-quarter comeback. The forward contributed five straight points to a 14-0 run that turned a 13-point deficit into a brief one-point lead. Kuzma finished the first half with 13 points to lead both teams, including 10 in the second quarter, but failed to score in the second half.
Kentavious Caldwell-Pope started in place of the injured Bradley but lasted less than four minutes before getting replaced by Alex Caruso. Caldwell-Pope played only nine minutes in the first half but broke out in the fourth quarter for 12 of his season-high 16 points.
“His scoring has been up and down, but he’s one of the guys on our team that brings the highest level of energy,” Vogel said. “One of his talents is how hard he plays and when you have a guy that plays as hard as he does, it impacts the energy on the floor.”