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Lakers edge Kings on road for fifth straight win

Russell Westbrook #0 of the Los Angeles Lakers drives to the basket against Terence Davis #3 of the Sacramento Kings in the second quarter at Golden 1 Center on January 07, 2023 in Sacramento, California. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)

LeBron James #6 of the Los Angeles Lakers drives to the basket against Domantas Sabonis #10 and Kevin Huerter #9 of the Sacramento Kings in the second quarter at Golden 1 Center on January 07, 2023 in Sacramento, California. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)

Russell Westbrook #0 of the Los Angeles Lakers is fouled by Davion Mitchell #15 of the Sacramento Kings in the first quarter at Golden 1 Center on January 07, 2023 in Sacramento, California. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)

Russell Westbrook #0 of the Los Angeles Lakers drives to the basket against Davion Mitchell #15 of the Sacramento Kings in the first quarter at Golden 1 Center on January 07, 2023 in Sacramento, California. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)

Anthony Davis #3 of the Los Angeles Lakers looks on before the game against the Sacramento Kings at Golden 1 Center on January 07, 2023 in Sacramento, California. (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images)

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SACRAMENTO — The moment Domantas Sabonis fouled out with 48 seconds remaining, the Kings were in trouble.

LeBron James had just driven through the 26-year-old big man and two-time All-Star for a finish at the rim, simultaneously making it seem as if the 6-foot-11 Sabonis was hardly there, but also drawing an and-one.

Sacramento coach Mike Brown conferenced with officials at midcourt, but ultimately Sabonis checked out for the last time, finishing with 25 points, 12 rebounds and 7 assists and 48 seconds left.

The Kings can’t win without their star big man, but the Lakers most definitely can.

That was the theme again for the Lakers (19-21), now one of the hottest teams in the NBA in spite of playing without Anthony Davis. They survived another brush with the Sacramento Kings, a team that had already beaten them twice, 136-134 to continue a five-game winning streak in which it doesn’t seem to matter who is in the lineup.

“I think we’ve had 21 starting lineups so far in less than 40 games which is insane,” James said. “But, just trying to figure it out and just trying to play for one another and not give in. We don’t really care what everybody else says about our ballclub or what’s going on on the outside. We just want to play the game.”

Sacramento De’Aaron Fox gave them a scare, the last two of his 34 points coming on a turnaround jumper at the free throw line to tie with 6.8 seconds left. But Fox then erred as Dennis Schröder drove in from the flank, putting a leg impeding the path of the German and putting him on line for a pair of free throws with 2.2 seconds to win the game.

Brown challenged that call, but could hardly complain about officiating on a night when the Kings got 37 free throws. The Lakers got 33 themselves in a whistle-happy game.

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Fox, however, tweeted a critique afterward: “Thought we were suppose to let the players decide the game”. He later deleted the tweet.

Schröder acknowledged it was unusual for a hip check to be called for game-deciding free throws, but laughed at Fox’s complaint: “If you foul, you foul.”

The critical factor for the Lakers was balance: James again led with 37 points, as well as 8 rebounds and 7 assists.

But James was joined by three other scorers with more than 20 points: Schröder with 27, Thomas Bryant with 29, and Russell Westbrook, who also tied a season-high with 15 assists to go with his 23 points.

In a game that was tied at halftime and after three quarters and rarely featured any defense, the Lakers pulled it out with surges that saw the top four scorers play huge hands in stemming the momentum.

The Kings are just the second opponent with a winning record that have fallen under the Lakers during the win streak, but the odds have been stark. The Lakers played another game without four key rotation players: Anthony Davis, Lonnie Walker IV, Austin Reaves and Troy Brown Jr.

And yet the Lakers are playing some of their best basketball of the season. No two players exemplify the step-up from role players than Schröder and Bryant, who missed the first month of the season with similar thumb injuries. The Lakers have gone 16-11 since they joined midseason.

Three nights removed from a season high in scoring, Schröder started hot, hitting his first four threes and already notching 23 points on his first eight attempts. Even though he had made all five of his previous attempts at the line, he admitted he was feeling some nerves at the line at the games’ finish, and the first attempt didn’t feel great coming out of his hands. But he tried to follow his own advice at the line.

“Anytime somebody gets to the line when you see the videos or film, I tell em, ‘Just let the ball go,’” Schröder said. “Because we holding em too much sometimes, and if you let it go, good (expletive) happens.”

Bryant, the former second-round pick of the Lakers on his second stint, scored a season-high – the 11th time in his last 13 games (since Davis got hurt) he’s finished in double figures. He didn’t get the post-up touches that Ham joked Friday he would try to find for him, but the big man had no trouble finding the bottom of the net on pull-up jumpers, transition finishes, and big putback dunks.

He had one of his biggest baskets with three minutes remaining – but it wasn’t bigger than the rebound he pulled off a Sabonis putback attempt in the final two minutes, keeping the Kings from going ahead.

Coach Darvin Ham said the Lakers needed “every bit” of Bryant’s monster stat line. The next step might be finding a way to keep his production going whenever Davis gets healthy again, perhaps even playing the two bigs in the same lineup.

The thought made Bryant grin.

“I always think of that,” he said. “Just to be able to incorporate him and my skillset as well, I feel like it’s going to be a great approach to the game of basketball. But, for right now, I can’t think too much ahead about that. Right now, I just have to focus on the next game and the next game after that one until our superstar is back.”

It was the Lakers’ first five-game win streak since the 2020-21 season. They will play the Denver Nuggets on the road Monday.

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