Lakers-Kings Preview

Associated Press  |  Last updated November 21, 2012
Coach Mike D'Antoni may be somewhat wobbly on his surgically replaced knee, but the Los Angeles Lakers seem to be finding their stride. Another meeting with the Sacramento Kings may keep their run going. Coming off D'Antoni's winning debut on the bench, the Lakers look to continue their surge Wednesday night when they try to send the Kings to a sixth consecutive defeat. Los Angeles (6-5) named D'Antoni coach on Nov. 12 after firing Mike Brown following a 1-4 start. D'Antoni's debut, though, had been delayed due to recovery from knee replacement surgery, but he was finally on the sideline for Tuesday's 95-90 win over Brooklyn. "With this team, there's no reason not to win every game," D'Antoni said. "That's our goal. It's not, 'Let's get two out of three.' We can win every game we play. ... I feel like we're the best team in the league. We've got the most talent, so they can do what they want. We've just got to keep perfecting things." While D'Antoni was not actively roaming the sidelines much in Tuesday's win, the Lakers have won five of six games since the coaching change, including a season-high three in a row. "We're definitely playing with better flow," said forward Pau Gasol, who has 17 points in each of the last two games. "We're playing with more confidence, looser out there. We're playing together and moving the ball, just playing basketball and not really worrying about actions; just playing the game." Production from Kobe Bryant and Dwight Howard is also helping. Bryant leads the NBA with 26.3 points per game, and Howard is among the leaders with 20.3 points and 11.7 rebounds. Both came up big in D'Antoni's debut, as Bryant scored 25 points - six coming in the final two minutes - while Howard contributed 23 with 15 boards. The All-Star center is pulling down an average of 14.6 rebounds over the past five games, including 18 with 23 points in a 103-90 victory over Sacramento (2-8) on Nov. 11. Bryant was held to 20 points in that meeting, but he's averaged 33.3 points in his last 13 games at Sleep Train Arena. The Lakers, though, have lost the last two visits, including last season's finale on April 26 when Bryant was rested ahead of the playoffs. The Kings are averaging 89.6 points during a five-game slide that continued with Sunday's 99-90 loss to the Nets. Coach Keith Smart tried to stop the skid by starting Aaron Brooks at the point and John Salmons at forward, but they combined for six points and seven rebounds. "Overall, when you make some changes like we have it's hard, but they were smiling for the most part," Smart said. "This is an adjustment period. That's something we have to go through to get out team turned around." DeMarcus Cousins is trying to do his part, leading Sacramento with 17.8 points per game and 10.3 boards. The center scored 23 of his season-high 29 points in the second half Sunday, bouncing back from a nine-point effort on 4 of 15 shooting in a loss to Atlanta on Thursday in his return from a two-game suspension. The team-imposed ban forced him to miss the Nov. 11 loss to Los Angeles.
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