Lakers focus on the playoffs after losing to Kings in season finale
LeBron James used it as a tune-up. Talen Horton-Tucker got his first start. Dion Waiters was the Lakers’ leading scorer. And when the Lakers finished their game Thursday afternoon against the Sacramento Kings, a 136-122 loss, the waiting began.
They’ll have four days until their first playoff game which will be at 6 p.m. Pacific time on Tuesday. But they won’t know their first-round opponent until this weekend’s play-in series for the eighth seed after the Grizzlies and Trail Blazers complete their play-in series.
On Tuesday night, James said: “We are ready for the playoffs. If the playoffs started tomorrow, we’d be ready for it. But as far as the mental side, you can’t really lock in on your opponent until you know your opponent.”
James played in the first half only, scoring 17 points in 14 minutes. He also had four assists and finished the season as the NBA’s leader in that category. Waiters had 19 points. Markieff Morris, who started, scored 14 points, as did Horton-Tucker.
“I wasn’t really happy with how we played overall,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “I think our guys are ready to get into that playoff environment. But there were plenty of positives. It was good to see Talen Horton-Tucker play big minutes. Markieff Morris got going a little bit. Dion, JR [Smith] could get a little bit more comfortable. LeBron was able to get in and get a little bit of a rhythm so he doesn’t have such a long layoff between games. So there were plenty of positives from today but we certainly need to play better than we did today.” The Lakers said Anthony Davis was out with a sore knee, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope was out with a sore foot and Alex Caruso was out with a sore neck. Kyle Kuzma was made inactive because of a coach’s decision.
The energy off the Sacramento bench came from a variety of factors. The desire to finish up strong was there, but there was also the fact that the team was hours away from leaving the NBA bubble.
Once the game ended, the Kings, having been eliminated over the weekend, departed the arena with their bags already packed and were taken to a section of the Coronado Springs resort where they would shower and change before heading home after a five-week stay.
At that point, four teams remained alive after the Lakers finished their game.
The Memphis Grizzlies and Phoenix Suns tipped off in separate games at 4 p.m. Eastern. The Grizzlies needed only to beat the Milwaukee Bucks to make it into the play-in series.
Sacramento Kings vs. Los Angeles Lakers highlights.
The Suns needed to beat the Dallas Mavericks and get some help. They needed the Grizzlies or the Trail Blazers to lose. As the Grizzlies entered Thursday 1-6 in the bubble, the former seemed more likely than the latter.
Phoenix did its part. The Suns beat the Mavericks 128-102 and became the only team to go 8-0 in seeding games. Suns coach Monty Williams could see the score of the Grizzlies game on an oversized video board opposite the Suns bench. As much as he tried not to look, he couldn’t help it.
“They got the screen over there it’s about as big as Texas,” Williams said laughing.
During one timeout he tried to tell his players not to pay attention to the Grizzlies score, but didn’t say it again.
“I felt like a hypocrite because I was doing the same thing,” Williams said.
“I just told them to focus on the game and here I am, I probably looked at it right after I told them. It’s our basketball life. This is our body of work.”
Memphis won, which meant unless Portland lost to Brooklyn later that night, the Suns were finished. It also meant the San Antonio Spurs had no path to the playoffs.
Moments later, Suns guard Devin Booker sat in the same chair as his coach and talked about earning the respect of the league during the past few weeks. Outside in the hallway, the Nets and Trail Blazers were beginning to set up for their game.
“Come on Brooklyn! We need you!” bellowed a player’s voice outside. Booker heard it and laughed.
Portland, though, had bullied its way into eighth place in the Western Conference and extended its stay by the will of its star guard Damian Lillard who scored 154 points in their final three seeding games. Lillard had 42 points Thursday night, and a critical steal.
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