The Los Angeles Lakers had talked about bringing Showtime back to the franchise when they hired Mike D’Antoni to implement his fast and flashy offense.
The curtains are still waiting to be raised on that act. Kobe Bryant scored an efficient 38 points but Dwight Howard and Pau Gasol struggled inside, and the lethargic Lakers lost 113-97 to the struggling Sacramento Kings on Wednesday night to snap a three-game winning streak.
”If we’re going to play Showtime, my God, they just closed the whole theatre on us,” D’Antoni said. ”Showtime, are you kidding? It was Muppet Time.”
Marcus Thornton scored 23 points and Tyreke Evans had 18 to pace Kings, who had lost five straight games. Jason Thompson added 13 points and 10 rebounds to help Sacramento run away in the fourth quarter and cement the latest Lakers setback.
Los Angeles seemed to be turning things around since hiring D’Antoni. Instead, the Lakers looked lost and listless against the Western Conference’s worst team, showing all the same problems that got coach Mike Brown fired.
”The first half might have been the worst basketball I’ve seen in 10 years,” D’Antoni said. Later, he added, ”It was like we were wrestling in mud.”
Bryant finished 11-of-20 shooting and Jodie Meeks had 15 points off the bench as D’Antoni lost for the first time on the Lakers bench.
A night after beating Brooklyn in Los Angeles, the Lakers might’ve been bad enough to give D’Antoni a headache to go with the pain still throbbing in his surgically replaced knee.
Bryant still almost willed his tired team back.
After the Lakers went down by 10 points early in the fourth quarter, he converted a three-point play over DeMarcus Cousins that sliced Sacramento’s lead to 96-92 with 3:06 remaining.
Thornton thwarted the rally in a hurry, swishing a 3-pointer from the top of the key on the next possession.
Officials whistled Gasol for a flagrant foul when he swatted Thompson in the face going for a rebound. Thompson made one of two free throws, Cousins added a pair of driving layups and a free throw to put Kings ahead 105-93, and the home fans chanting ”Beat L-A! Beat L-A!” while Bryant finished the game on the bench with a towel over his head.
”It always feels good beating the Lakers,” Thornton said. ”Our fans were into it so we don’t really want to let them down. So we came out and played hard, I don’t know what for, but we played extremely hard against the Lakers.”
Though point guards Steve Nash and Steve Blake are expected to be out with injuries for at least another two games, the limited Lakers talent was hardly an excuse in this matchup.
The Lakers held Sacramento to 31 percent shooting in the first quarter. Kings big man Chuck Hayes also had to go back to the locker room to receive stitches after he was cut around his right eye and had blood dripping down his cheek, and yet Los Angeles still only led by six.
Aaron Brooks started Sacramento’s spurt in the third quarter when he floated an underhand layup over Howard and drew a foul for a three-point play on the new Lakers center, which tumbled hard into a row of photographers under the baseline.
Brooks added a jumper and a 3-pointer to highlight the 17-5 run that put the Kings ahead 69-58.
”Our team went on a whirlwind,” Kings coach Keith Smart said.
D’Antoni kept yelling and motioning for the Lakers to sprint up court to match Sacramento’s speed. Instead, they often kept the pace at a slow crawl.
Howard finished with seven points on 2-of-4 shooting. Gasol scored eight points on 3 of 10 from the field, and the Lakers were outscored 50-22 in the paint.
”It seemed like we were a little lethargic for whatever reason,” Bryant said. ”We just have to push through it, particularly the second unit, especially while Dwight is in there. You don’t have to go to as many pick-and-rolls, really, just dump the ball down to him and let him operate.”