LOS ANGELES Just because preseason games don't count in the standings, that doesn't make the outcome irrelevant.
For the Kings, every chance to play is meaningful as the franchise looks to return to the playoffs after six consecutive losing seasons.
And Sunday night, the Kings faced a championship contender that was taking the game seriously, too.
The biggest name to change teams in the offseason All-Star center Dwight Howard made his debut for the Lakers at Staples Center.
The Kings decided not to be admirers of the Lakers' new lineup. And by the end of the night, a preseason game had the look and feel of the regular season in a 99-92 Kings win.
"You look in the building, this was not a preseason game," Kings coach Keith Smart said. "You had guys (for the Lakers) trying to get a win here and that didn't happen. But our guys made that not happen because they made the right plays at the right time for our team."
Smart reminds his team it has a long way to go before it can be a playoff team, so playing the Lakers is a test before the regular season.
The Kings play the Lakers in three of their final four preseason games, winning two thus far. For the Kings, that matters.
"We're trying to get ready for the season," center DeMarcus Cousins said. "We're not defending champs. We're not a playoff team. We're trying to get better each game. We're also trying to find our core group and find the chemistry."
Cousins noticed the Lakers were doing the same thing. It was the first time the Lakers had their starting lineup together.
With 7:19 to play, the Lakers had that five Steve Nash, Kobe Bryant, Metta World Peace, Pau Gasol and Howard on the floor. And the Kings held them off.
"It's preseason, but I believe they were definitely getting ready for the season," Cousins said. "They've got to build a chemistry with that core group."
The Kings (4-1) play the Suns tonight in Phoenix. The Kings finish the preseason Thursday against the Lakers in San Diego.
"If we were playing terrible in the preseason, it would be bad," Smart said. "But we've been playing OK, so we want to make sure we are playing with confidence in how you're playing and how you move on."
Howard was out after having back surgery while still playing for the Orlando Magic in April. He looked rusty at times while handling the ball but still managed to score 19 points to go with 12 rebounds, two assists and four blocked shots.
"When you have any kind of surgery, it's going to take a while to get your game legs," Smart said. "But he's a phenomenal athlete, and they're going to be there. Dwight, he's going to catch up."
Cousins finished with 16 points and six rebounds and said he didn't see any difference in Howard's game.
"Not at all," Cousins said. "Everything's still the same."
Smart said Cousins can learn every time he plays against Howard, especially now that he'll play Howard more often.
"He's going to see him a lot for the rest of his career while they're playing in the West in preseason games and regular-season games," Smart said. "That's going to be a great rivalry, a great combination of two guys playing well."