The host Sacramento Kings finally get their shot at the Los Angeles Lakers after a near-miss in last season’s playoffs when the Pacific Division clubs square off in the California capital on Sunday night.
The Kings won the Pacific Division last season and, as the third seed in the West, needed only to beat sixth-seeded Golden State in the seventh game of their first-round playoff series to earn a matchup with the seventh-seeded Lakers in the Western Conference semifinals.
The Warriors won that game 120-100 in Sacramento, eliminating the Kings and earning their own shot at the Lakers, who won that second-round series en route to a matchup with the Denver Nuggets in the Western Conference finals.
The Kings and Lakers both enter Sunday’s head-to-head meeting with 1-1 records, with Sacramento again having lost to Golden State after a season-opening win at Utah, while the Lakers rebounded from a defeat in Denver on Opening Night with a home win over the Phoenix Suns.
Sacramento took three of four games from the Lakers in the regular season during the 2022-23 campaign, although it had most of its success on the road, going 2-0 in Los Angeles.
The Kings got a triple-double from Domantas Sabonis in a 134-120 home win last December in a game Anthony Davis missed. LeBron James had 31 points and 11 assists for the Lakers.
Again playing without Davis, the Lakers rode James’ back to a measure of revenge in a repeat visit to Sacramento in January. This time, James got the better of Sabonis in the duel of stars, pouring in 37 points, while Sabonis went for 25.
James has had Davis by his side in the first two games this season, but he took it upon himself to rally the Lakers to a 100-95 home win over the Suns on Thursday at the end of a brilliant all-around performance in which he put up 21 points, nine assists, eight rebounds, two steals and two blocks.
He did so in 35 minutes, just two days after Lakers coach Darvin Ham had claimed James’ playing time would have limitations this season. The 38-year-old was kept to 29 minutes in the loss to Denver.
James admitted after the win over the Suns that playing the entire fourth quarter resulted from a conversation he had with Ham with the game in the balance.
“He asked me if I could go the (whole) quarter, and I looked at the time and the score and what was going on in the game, and it was an easy answer for myself,” James said. “I know how much work I’ve put in to be able to play quarters. … I understand that we definitely have a system put in place, but (Thursday) called for me to go outside the box.”
The Kings were hoping for similar late success from their co-star, De’Aaron Fox, in a come-from-behind effort against the Warriors on Friday.
In capping off a night where he was pressed into 39 minutes of action, Fox went for 22 points in the final 7:38, almost single-handedly drawing the hosts within 117-112 with 1:15 remaining after they’d been down by 18 before the flurry.
Fox missed his final three shots, however, allowing the Warriors to escape with a 122-114 win.
In the end, Fox admitted even scoring 39 points can leave a sour taste when the opposing star — Stephen Curry in this case — goes for 41.
“It’s fun and not fun,” Fox insisted. “Because once he gets it going, there’s not much you can really do about it.”