LOS ANGELES – On Chick Hearn night, the Los Angeles Lakers continued their balanced offensive play as they won their third consecutive game Sunday by defeating the Sacramento Kings 100-86.
For the Lakers it is a different player each night that leads the way, and on Sunday it was Xavier Henry, who scored 21 points on 7-of-11 shooting from the field in 21 minutes on the floor.
“(I) Just (had) to be aggressive,” Henry said, who had his second game 20-plus point game of the season. “I haven’t played well these last few games. I know I can score and bring defensive intensity. I just came out and played the same game, and I was a little more aggressive tonight.”
Head coach Mike D’Antoni knows that Henry is going to struggle at times, but doesn’t want his young guard to lose his aggressive nature on the court.
“He’s going to come at you. He’s 22 years old and I think there will be ups and downs,” D’Antoni said. “He can’t lose his aggressiveness. If some of that ever gets out of control, we will take him and he will have to learn through mistakes. We keep pointing them out and we keep showing the film and having patience with him. (And) tonight it paid off.”
In the first quarter the teams traded the lead 10 times with Greivis Vasquez scoring 13 of his team-high 20 points on 6-0f-7 shooting from the field, despite that the Lakers built their lead by going on a 21-7 run that spanned from the three minutes mark in the first quarter to midway through the second quarter that gave them a 13-point lead at 40-27.
Sacramento would respond with a 9-2 run and did not trail by more than nine points for the rest of the second quarter. Although they allowed the Kings to shoot 50 percent from the field in the first half, Los Angeles lead 55-48 at halftime behind 14 points from Pau Gasol and Steve Blake’s all-around effort of seven points, seven assists and five rebounds.
The Kings began the second half on a 7-2 run that cut the lead to two points. The Lakers were able to weather the storm by finishing the quarter strong by scoring the final 10 points of period and by forcing Sacramento to miss their last nine shots, which gave them a 73-61 lead heading into the fourth quarter.
In the fourth quarter it was much of the same, as Los Angeles stretched their lead to as much as 19 points and kept DeMarcus Cousins under wraps as they only allowed him to score four points. He would finish with 17 points, eight rebounds and seven assists on the night.
It was a collective team effort and D’Antoni credits the team’s recent success to their commitment to the game plan.
“We are sticking to our principles a lot. I think they’re getting to the point where they’re not thinking about things and reacting and sticking to what we are doing,” D’Antoni said. “They’re just following the game plan really well. The last part is their effort. They want to do it. I think because you share the ball on offense, and everyone feels good about how they are playing that it transfer on the defensive end and gets more team energy. I think it has shown in the last three games.”
Blake also thinks that the team’s three-game winning streak is due in large part to the team buying into D’Antoni’s offense and the players becoming more comfortable with each other.
“It’s a good locker room win or lose,” Blake said, who had nine points and 12 assists, which marked his fifth double digit assist game in the last six contests. “But I think we are all buying into the concepts and we are starting to make them instinctual. We are just doing the right things that is partly due to practice and repetitions, and starting to get comfortable with each other.”
As the Lakers embark on their three-game road trip next week, D’Antoni hopes that the team can take the next step by continuing their style of play on the road and improve on their 1-4 road record.
“Just to continue to play like we are playing,” D’Antoni said. “The first step is at home, everyone knows that. The next step is to do it on the road. We can do it. I don’t know if that will be on Tuesday, but that’s our goal. We need to have a winning record on the road and that’s when you are a good team.”
Finding his Grove
Over the past two games it has appeared that Gasol has seemed to turn the corner offensively as he scored 20 points and 10 rebounds, which is his second consecutive game of at least 20 points and 10 rebounds. It was also the second straight game of shooting at least at 5o percent from the field.
His struggles this season on offense have been career lows in points (13.8), field goal percentage (.414), and minutes per game (29.9).He had also before these last two games shot over 50 percent twice and scored over 15 points three times.
The 33-year-0ld’s high level of play in the last two games, may have been due to the team’s four day layoff this past week that allowed him to heal and rest the strained muscle in his left foot.
If Los Angeles wants to continue to win games, they are going to need Gasol to continue his upward offensive trend.
Photo Credit: Ethan Miller/Getty Images