Though his shot was off for most of the night, the ice in D’Angelo Russell’s veins froze just in time for some clutch buckets.
In particular, he skipped through the paint and delivered the go-ahead, finger-roll layup with only 41 seconds left to beat Sacramento, 98-94, and hand the Lakers their third win in a row.
”They are having fun and they are competing,” head coach Luke Walton said of his players. “When we were playing well early in the year, that is what we were doing. Losing took that from us, and we’ve found it again for the last couple of games.”
While Russell finished off the Kings (31-48), Julius Randle was the Lakers’ engine for most of the night.
The Kentucky product led all players with 25 points on 10-of-14 shooting, while also scrapping for five offensive rebounds.
The outburst certainly looked familiar for Randle’s college coach, John Calipari, who sat courtside and had postgame dinner plans with his former power forward.
“That’s my guy,” Randle said. “He’s always giving me the utmost confidence. When I got here in the NBA he just texted me the things that he saw when he watched me play. He’s always had my back.”
Randle oversaw a considerable advantage down low, as the Lakers (31-48) scored 60 points in the paint and hauled in 16 offensive boards.
That, combined with 23 turnovers forced, helped topple a hot Kings squad that shot 50.7 percent from the field.
“I think we’re playing more together,” said Larry Nance Jr., who had seven points and a game-high 11 rebounds. “We’re not necessarily caring who gets the points, who gets the rebounds, who gets the steals. Everybody’s focused on trying to get some wins.”
The Lakers didn’t appear heading toward a win at first, as Sacramento seized a 31-18 lead at the end of the first quarter. However, L.A. bolted out of the second on a 23-6 run and entered halftime down by just one.
Then Randle went to work, scoring 13 points in a third quarter highlighted by an and-1 layup that he set up with a shifty behind-the-back dribble.
From there, the teams went back and forth, alternating through 17 lead changes and 11 ties on the night.
With his team trailing by one with less than three minutes left, Russell — who had shot just 2-of-8 at this point — came through with a pull-up 3-pointer.
More lead exchanging ensued until Russell put the game on ice with his layup in the final minute, sealing the Lakers’ second three-game winning streak of the year.
“We’ve been in enough of those close games to live and learn from our mistakes,” Nance said. “We’re limiting those right now. It might be some guys growing up, some experience being had.”
Brandon Ingram scored 14 points, including on a pair of crowd-pleasing slams. Russell had 13 points. … The Kings were led by Skal Labissiere (19 points), Darren Collison (15 points, 10 assists) and Georgios Papagiannis (10 points, 10 rebounds). … A crowd of 18,997 sold out Staples Center.