Malik Monk and LeBron James lead Lakers past Kings for third win in a row
The words — “three-pointer, Buddy Hield” — were heard over the arena’s public address system seven times, each time met with a louder groan from the crowd.
It wasn’t so much that the Lakers were letting one of the best three-point shooters in the NBA get hot — fans have seen this defense be ineffective plenty of times 39 games into the season. No, it was the inescapable reminder that those three points could’ve belonged to the Lakers.
And instead of cheering for something that’s super easy to digest — a wing shooter hitting wing shots — fans were left murmuring as Russell Westbrook and the Lakers struggled to make sense of who they are one missed perimeter shot at a time.
The Lakers, though, can overcome those issues on a nightly basis thanks to LeBron James, who once again was dazzling, and the shooter the team ended up landing this offseason, Malik Monk.
James scored 31, Monk had 24 and Westbrook finished with 19, helping trigger a few of the team’s biggest defensive stops down the stretch of a 122-114 win against the Kings.
It’s the third win in a row for the Lakers (20-19) and their fourth in their last five games. The Kings fell to 16-23.
Right before the Lakers landed Westbrook from the Washington Wizards in a trade that cost them Kyle Kuzma, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Montrezl Harrell and a first-round pick, the team was close to a deal with the Kings for Hield — some of the players even believing the trade was done.
Hield’s absence from the Lakers’ roster is the kind of decision that will follow this team all season — an attractive alternative to the growing pains the Lakers are still figuring out with Westbrook and James on the court together.
Even members of the Kings grumbled before the game about the Lakers’ decision, wondering how they would walk away from such a seemingly obvious fit for one that continues to, at best, still look like a high-stakes gamble.
Following Sunday’s game, in which he matched his nine missed shots with nine turnovers, Westbrook defended the miscues, saying they didn’t dictate whether he played a good game or not.
“My game is not predicated on shots or if I turn the ball over. Like, I miss some shots, that’s part of the game. I’m allowed to miss shots. I can do that. Like any other player, I can do that. I can turn the ball over too. I can do that. That’s all a part of the game,” Westbrook said Monday. “But when you watch a basketball game and figure out what impact making the right plays, boxing out, rebounding, whatever that may be, making the right play, making the right reads, that’s all about being a basketball player.”
While the Lakers opened a roster spot by trading Rajon Rondo, a likely spot for Stanley Johnson, Frank Vogel said Kendrick Nunn was close to his debut.
And down the stretch Tuesday, Westbrook certainly outplayed his seven-for-19 shooting night with a couple of crucial forced turnovers, helping the Lakers come back from down seven in the fourth quarter. He also had zero turnovers for the first time since March 14, 2016.
“This is exactly what I was talking about,” Westbrook said after Tuesday’s win.
The Lakers outscored Sacramento by 17 in Westbrook’s 33-plus minutes despite his one-for-seven shooting start.
“Russ is really invested in this team,” Lakers coach Frank Vogel said. “He’s not always perfect, but he really cares.”
And it’s not like Hield is a winning player without his baggage. He’s been in and out of doghouses in his time with the Kings because of on-court performance and effort inconsistencies. But around stars such as James, it all feels so simple — shooters star in that situation, and Hield’s one of the game’s best.
It’s sometimes simpler to imagine that than it is with a player as unique as Westbrook.
You can see just how well a shooter can look with Monk, a player the team signed for a minimum contract after Charlotte decided to pass on its former lottery pick.
In the starting lineup for the fifth time, Monk continued to play like one of basketball’s biggest bargains, scoring 11 of his points in the fourth quarter while playing with a confidence and an energy the team lacked at times during an uneven performance.
With their smaller lineups hurt by the Kings’ size, Vogel turned to Dwight Howard for the first time in two games and the veteran responded with 14 points and 14 rebounds. And Talen Horton-Tucker, who has struggled mightily since coming out of the COVID-19 protocols, scored 19 points off the bench to go with six assists and four rebounds. The Lakers didn’t need any of those shots from Hield to win. The group they had was good enough.
“Those guys were huge, a big part of the win,” Vogel said.
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