Lakers go up north to face Kings in Sacramento

Sergio Estrada-USA TODAY Sports
The Kings defeated the Lakers three out of four games last season.

The Lakers are now 1-1. Last season, it took them 6 games to get their first W. The Lakers are a decidedly deeper team now but like last year, the energy seems to be lacking for 48 minutes. Jarred Vanderbilt can’t come back fast enough, who provides said energy on the defensive end but will be out for a few weeks.

Well, the Lakers better be pepped up for Sunday night. The Lakers take on the #1 offensive team from last season, the Sacramento Kings.

There was a time when the Sacramento Kings seemed hapless for a really really long time. For 16 seasons, they were always outside the playoff picture. It was perpetual lottery season for Sacramento and it never seemed to end.

Then seemingly out of nowhere, head coach Mike Brown (who also needed redemption in his own right) came in and gave the team something to believe in. De’Aaron Fox made clutch shot after clutch shot to win the inaugural Clutch Player of the Year (the Lakers know first-hand about this). Domantas Sabonis got all the boards. Kevin Huerter made all the threes. Keegan Murray had a great rookie season. Ex-Laker Malik Monk cashed in on a good season in L.A. and was an important dude from the bench for Sacramento. Harrison Barnes provided veteran experience. Davion Mitchell makes it tough against the guys he’s guarding. Even Alex Len got in some important minutes in the playoffs.

The team won 48 games last season and took it to 7 against the defending champion Golden State Warriors. And they did the coolest thing in the NBA in years by lighting the beam whenever they won. With that incredible season, Mike Brown would end up winning his second Coach of the Year award.

Now the Kings can’t sneak up on anyone anymore and they’ll have heightened expectations. They added JaVale McGee, who has three championship rings, for more experience. Sasha Vezenkov, the EuroLeague MVP, signed with the team in the offseason. And they got Chris Duarte, formerly from Indiana, to add to their wing depth.

The Kings aren’t really about defending, even though that’s Mike Brown’s speciality. They will overwhelm teams with buckets. And they were very successful with that for the most part last year.

The Lakers are certainly capable of that this season. But there really hasn’t been a flow in the first two games. If they can stop playing so much one-on-one (especially when LeBron James is sitting down) and if they can get actual movement on the offensive end, they can match that Kings offense. I mentioned the absence of Jarred Vanderbilt, especially on the defensive end. They’re missing the energy that the Lakers need from him although we saw what they’re capable of defensively in the fourth quarter against the Suns.

There’s also the matter of how the Lakers will handle LeBron James. They immediately broke his minutes limit on Thursday when he played 35 minutes on the court. This is the first game of a back-to-back; will LeBron be limited no matter what? And we know Anthony Davis’s consistency on the offensive end. If we find the Anthony Davis of November and December (before he got hurt) from last season, the Lakers should be golden.

And the postseason heroes from last April and May, Austin Reaves and Rui Hachimura, haven’t gotten as many touches. Darvin Ham is experimenting with line-ups; he has 10 guys in his regular rotation thus far. At some point, he’ll have to settle with something regular. And the team looks atrocious when LeBron is sitting down. They’ll have to learn how to play without him because we know the Kings’ eyes will light up when this happens.

So it’ll be a rivalry renewed between the Lakers and the Kings. Although Lakers fans would ask if it was really a rivalry from 2000-02 when the Kings never defeated the Lakers in the playoffs. Either way, the games will increasingly have the stakes raised as the Kings attempt to return to the upper tier of the league.

And the Lakers, like in the early part of the century, will do everything in their power to keep that from happening.