Preview: Sacramento Kings vs. Los Angeles Lakers
GAME: L.A. Lakers Lakers (61-16) at Sacramento Kings (16-60)
DATE/TIME: Tuesday, April 07 - 10:00 PM EST
SPREAD: Sacramento 11.5 TOTAL: 215.5
If the Los Angeles Lakers thought they could coast through a stretch of games against lesser opponents, they found out quickly they can't afford to take any team lightly.
After barely hanging on to beat one of the league's worst teams, the Lakers look to continue their push for the top overall seed of the playoffs Tuesday night against the NBA-worst Sacramento Kings.
With five games remaining, Los Angeles (61-16) has clinched home-court advantage for the Western Conference playoffs and is trying to earn it throughout the postseason. The Lakers are one game back of East-leading Cleveland but own the tiebreaker, having swept the Cavaliers in the season series.
While Los Angeles is one of the league's elite teams, it looked sluggish down the stretch of Sunday's 88-85 home win over the woeful Los Angeles Clippers.
The Lakers appeared to be on the verge of an easy win, leading by 19 with six minutes remaining in regulation, but the Clippers went on a 20-2 run to pull within one point with a minute to go. Pau Gasol's driving layup and a pair of free throws by Kobe Bryant in the final minute saved the Lakers from an embarrassing collapse.
Although Los Angeles managed to win its third straight and improved to 33-5 at home, coach Phil Jackson was not pleased.
"I was not happy with the ballgame," he said. "We didn't do the game plan the right way."
The Lakers, who host Denver on Thursday before visiting Portland on Friday, were held to nearly 19 points below their season average. Bryant finished with 18 on 5-of-15 shooting.
"Disappointed," Bryant said about the close call. "We didn't play as hard defensively during the stretch."
Offense comes and goes. Sometimes you hit shots, sometimes you don't. You got to defend. Our offense let us down, our defense kept the lead."
Bryant and the Lakers look to get back on track offensively against a Sacramento team that's allowed an average of 115.3 points in its last 12 games.
While the Kings have lost 11 of 13 and trail Los Angeles by 44 1/2 games in the standings, the Lakers aren't going to overlook them. Los Angeles beat the Kings in the two meetings at Staples Center this season but lost 113-101 at Sacramento on Dec. 9.The Kings (16-60) fell to Golden State 105-100 on Sunday to set a single-season franchise record for defeats, breaking the mark held by the 1989-90 club.
Like the Clippers on Sunday, Sacramento also had a late comeback fall short. The Kings trimmed a 17-point fourth-quarter deficit to three on Jason Thompson's jump shot with 1:10 to go, but could get no closer.
"We came out with no energy and no effort," Sacramento interim coach Kenny Natt said. "Basically, we just goofed off in this game for three quarters, and then decided to play. By that time, they've already made their move and had the cushion. That's the story of our team right now."
Bobby Jackson had 17 points to lead seven players in double figures for the Kings, who lost their fourth in a row.
Sacramento could be without starting center Spencer Hawes against the Lakers after he left in the first half Sunday with double vision after being poked in the eye. Hawes, listed as day-to-day, had averaged 17.5 points and 8.0 rebounds in his previous four games.
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