Kings coach Michael Malone expected his team to be in a lot of close games this season.
And that was assuming the Kings were at full strength.
The Kings haven’t been at 100 percent in two weeks, so it’s been a struggle of late. It’s even harder when the Kings beat themselves, as they did in a 98-95 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday night at Staples Center.
Sacramento turned the ball over, missed too many free throws and failed to run a semblance of an organized offense in crucial situations to fall to 2-5 without DeMarcus Cousins this season. Cousins, the Kings’ leading scorer and rebounder, is out because of viral meningitis.
Premium content for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
The fourth quarter was especially difficult. The Kings managed only 14 points, made only 4 of 10 free throws and committed three turnovers.
The Lakers didn’t shoot well, either, in the fourth, going 6 for 22. But they missed only two free throws and had no turnovers.
Rookie Nik Stauskas missed a potential tying three-pointer before the buzzer.
“The free-throw line killed us tonight,” Malone said. “We left 13 points at the free-throw line … you go 4 of 10 from the line in a close game, those are tough points to get back.”
The Kings (11-11) were rolling to start the game. But as has been their tendency lately, they went through a stretch when their offense was disjointed. That allowed the Lakers (6-16) to hang around.
“I thought at times (it was) just not getting organized,” Malone said. “And I told our guys that’s happened too many times. We have to run the offense late in games, and when we do that, we get high-percentage looks. (Tuesday) was just too much random dribbling around, trying to make it up as we went.”
A big reason for that was the Kings’ inability to take care of the ball. Turnovers have been a major issue for the Kings in all their losses this season. Entering Tuesday, they averaged 17.7 turnovers in their defeats. In their wins, the Kings averaged 14.5 turnovers.
The Lakers scored 21 points off 16 Sacramento turnovers to stay close after falling behind by as many as 12 points. That gave the Lakers hope on a night the Kings held them to 39.6 percent shooting.
Los Angeles also had 21 second-chance points as opponents continue to grab offensive rebounds in Cousins’ absence. Cousins leads the NBA at 12.6 rebounds per game.
The Kings led 55-46 at halftime because they held the Lakers to 37.3 percent shooting and the offense was efficient. Sacramento shot 54.1 percent in the first half with 15 assists on 20 baskets.
But the Kings lost their way in the third quarter, when the Lakers cut the deficit to 81-78 entering the fourth after tying it during the period. The Kings gave up 13 points off seven turnovers and allowed the Lakers to shoot 56.5 percent in the third.
Darren Collison led the Kings with a season-high 26 points, but he missed six of his eight free throws, including his first five. Rudy Gay had 23 points and five assists.
Kobe Bryant led the Lakers with 32 points, the most by a Kings opponent this season. Carlos Boozer had 15 points and nine rebounds in his second game as a reserve. Nick Young added 12 points off the bench for Los Angeles.
“Tough loss. This loss really, really stings,” Malone said. “It’s a bad loss. Not because of who we played. I would never disrespect the Lakers, but to have the lead and play as well as we did at times and just give it all back and not have the poise to handle the adversity down the stretch.”
Follow The Bee’s Jason Jones on Twitter @mr_jasonjones and read more about the team at www.sacbee.com/kings.