LAKERS at KINGS PREVIEW
By JEFF BARTL
Despite an injured wrist, Kobe Bryant nearly led the Los Angeles Lakers to an impressive season-opening victory.
The Lakers' recent success against the Sacramento Kings lends reason to believe they have a solid chance to bounce back quickly from a tough loss.
Los Angeles continues its stretch of three games in as many days Monday night when it visits Sacramento for the Kings' opener.
Bryant tore a ligament in his right wrist in the final preseason game, but he played through the discomfort to score 28 points in Sunday's 88-87 loss to Chicago.
He also added a team-high six assists, but his eighth turnover came with about 17 seconds remaining and allowed Derrick Rose to score the winning bucket with 4.8 seconds left.
The Lakers erased a seven-point halftime deficit and held Chicago to 25.0 percent shooting in the second half, but they also blew an 11-point lead in the final four minutes.
"I saw a lot of positive things," Bryant said. "Defensively, we were terrific. We did a good job, and we're just going to get better. We're going to be very good defensively."
The loss spoiled the Lakers coaching debut of Mike Brown, who said he was happy with his team's performance up until the final few minutes.
"We played pretty good basketball until right down the stretch," said Brown, whose squad also will play Tuesday night at home against Utah. "There were a lot of things that went wrong down the stretch where we didn't quite finish the game."
Los Angeles hopes for a better result Monday when it looks for its 10th win in 11 tries against Sacramento.
Bryant has averaged 33.3 points in his last seven games versus the Kings, who seek a big turnaround after going 24-58 and missing the playoffs for the fifth straight season.
Their fans may be happy just to have a team. Declining attendance and an aging arena had ownership flirting with a move to Anaheim this offseason, but the Kings remain in California's capital city for at least one more season – and with higher expectations.
Sacramento is thinking playoffs with a healthy Tyreke Evans, a slimmer DeMarcus Cousins, explosive scorer Marcus Thornton and rookie sharpshooter Jimmer Fredette.
Evans averaged 17.8 points last season, down from 20.1 as a rookie, and also missed 25 games with plantar fasciitis in his left foot, but he's hoping to lead the Kings up and down the floor quickly this year.
"I think it's going to be an interesting season," Evans said. "We're going to try to run teams out of the gym."
That might be easier with Cousins coming to camp in better shape and with a positive attitude. He took his lumps as a rookie and questioned his role at times, but the big man finished with averages of 14.1 points and a team-high 8.6 rebounds.
"I know what to expect now, so it's not as much pressure," Cousins said. "Last year, I came in with a lot of pressure. A lot of people were looking for me to save the team and this and that. But I'm a lot more relaxed now and having fun, and we're going to play ball and win."
The latter part of that statement may be the most difficult. The Kings play in the highly competitive Western Conference, where the No. 8 seed in 2010-11 had 46 wins.
Sacramento hasn't finished above .500 since 2005-06 – the team's last postseason appearance.
"Pretty much everybody has improved, so we've got to try to jump over several of those teams. And we think we can," coach Paul Westphal said. "I know we're going to be better, but who are we going to jump over? That's why they play the games. We'll find out."
Sacramento played the Lakers tough last season despite losing three of four meetings. The Kings upset Los Angeles on the road 100-95 on Jan. 28 behind 27 points and 10 rebounds from Cousins.
The last meeting April 13 went to overtime before the Lakers won 116-108, as Bryant scored 36 points. That was their ninth victory in 10 trips to Sacramento since 2007.
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