So for as good as the Kings felt after a close loss at Dallas, they might have felt just as bad about a win.
Beating the Los Angeles Lakers, 118-115, Thursday night in Kobe Bryant’s final game at Sleep Train Arenas wasn’t a big accomplishment. Given the gap in talent and in the standings, the Kings were expected to win.
But it’s how the Kings won that had them talking of the need for more focus. The Kings blew a 27-point lead and needed a late bucket from Rajon Rondo with 21.7 seconds to play to win the game against the Lakers, who fell to 8-29 and remain in last place in the Western Conference.
The Kings, again let perimeter players score too often, too easily and that had coach George Karl worked up after the game. Karl said he was ready to turn to Seth Curry, who is more noted for his shooting, to help the Kings shore up “shabby” defense by the guards.
“Seth right now covers the ball better than anybody on our team and we need somebody to cover the ball,” Karl said. “I don’t need anymore points, I don’t need anything more than than somebody to cover the (darn) basketball. If someone gets hungry enough to cover the basketball he’ll probably play.”
The Kings more than just one person to defend. Bryant hit the Kings for 28 points before sitting out the fourth quarter. Rookie D’Angelo Russell had a career-high 27 points. Lou Williams had 20 points and Jordan Clarkson had 15 points.
The Kings won thanks to building a big lead in the first half, but were outscored 67-49 in the second half. The Kings still won thanks to Cousins (29 points, 10 rebounds, seven assists) and because they shot 55.3 percent, slightly better than the Lakers at 54.7 percent for the game.
The Lakers shot 61.5 percent in the second half and outscored the Kings 23-6 to start the fourth quarter to take a 109-108 lead.
“We’ve got to get tired of giving the other team confidence and letting them have effort and hustle on our homecourt,” Karl said. “... In the second half we got outworked, outfought, and we were fortunate enough to have such a big lead and we saved it at the end against a team that’s probably having similar problems.”
The Kings’ continue to struggle to put together the kind of consistent effort that leaves them satisfied, even after a win. The team felt better after Tuesday’s loss in double overtime at Dallas because of how it played the entire game.
Allowing the Lakers back in the game Thursday didn’t make the Kings feel good. Had the Kings lost, they would have lost to the two teams with the worst records in the NBA at home.
“I feel the loss against Dallas was better than this win against the Lakers,” said DeMarcus Cousins.
Rondo said the Kings didn’t finish the game the right way, but he liked the composure the team showed late.
He said the defense from the guards has to continue to progress.
“We’ve got to do a better job of getting to the ball,” Rondo said. “Keep fighting over the pick-and-rolls, communication is key defensively. Weakside help is key and we’ve got to continue to learn and keep building.”
Bryant received a loud ovation during the game and fans chanted his name in the fourth quarter, even though he was not going back in the game.
Bryant had missed the previous three games with a sore right shoulder but did not want to miss his last chance to play in Sacramento.
“I looked at the schedule and I knew my shoulder was bothering me,” Bryant said. “I wanted to make sure I rested it enough to be able to play one last time here.”
Bryant said he knows it’s time to retire because he saw some of his Kings rivals, Chris Webber, Vlade Divac and Peja Stojakovic, all have their jerseys retired by the Kings.
Divac gave Bryant a No. 8 Charlotte Hornets jersey as a gift. Divac was traded to Charlotte in 1996 for the draft rights to Bryant.
Bryant said Sleep Train would always be a special place for him.
“I don’t think anything will ever top Game 7 (of the 2002 Western Conference Finals),” Bryant said. “Not the end of Game 7, but the beginning of Game 7, the start. The announcing of the starting five, the lights going out, all those cool lights that they gave everybody and they’re waving them all around. You just feel the electricity in the building. That’s the best part.”