With the Lakers' win at Arco Arena on Tuesday night, they are now tied for the Western Conference lead with San Antonio.
Yet the Kings - who could go undefeated for the rest of the season and still not make the playoffs - had their way with the them until Kobe Bryant took over late. These are the same Kings who have downed the Spurs this season, the same Kings who have shown that they can down the league's best on any given night. All of which is precisely why I am of the opinion that a new playoff system is in order. The West is too good to leave teams like Denver, Portland and the Kings - if they were able to make a late run - out of the postseason.
As it was, this one was a regular season thriller of the most electric kind. Ron Artest didn't address the media afterward, which you can bet had much more to do with his disappointment than it was about saying something costly. Brad Miller said plenty, including his high praise of a Lakers team that is playing better than any squad in the league right now.
"LA’s a really good team this year," he said. "It’s one of the best Lakers teams I’ve seen since I’ve been here. Even with Shaq and Kobe that first year, I felt like we matched up really well and played them tough. They’re versatile this year, and they’re tough to beat. So we can’t make mistakes at the end of games."
Are they potential champs?
"You never know in the West," he continued. "It’s the most balanced conference from one to nine that I’ve seen since I’ve been in the West."
Considering there were Kobe "MVP" chants roaring through Arco Arena, then maybe there are Lakers fans perusing through the Kings blog. If so - or for Kings fans who are closet Kobe fans, too - you can relive the game here via video.
A few observations before this LA story actually heads to LA (Clippers on Wednesday night)...
* The Kings remain the only team in the league that hasn't defeated a divisional opponent. It's 0-8 and counting with another chance coming on Wednesday against a Clippers team that's already downed the Kings twice.
* I wouldn't call it a game-breaker, but the decision by Kings coach Reggie Theus to keep Kevin Martin out for the first six minutes of the fourth quarter didn't seem to help matters with Kobe about to heat up. Martin was out of rhythm when he returned, and he took just one fourth quarter shot while Artest took nine. My opinion alone (meaning this isn't coming from Martin), but it just seemed a little long considering he had 23 points on 8 of 16 shooting through three quarters.
* Anthony Johnson continues to get time over Quincy Douby (who had none), which makes little sense if only because the clock is still ticking here. Douby is in his second season and the question mark above his name remains, and there's really no way to remove that if he doesn't play.
His time has been strangely sporadic, too, as he played nine or more minutes six times last month while playing a combined six minutes in the other eight games. The tragedy to me was Feb. 9 at Golden State, where he should have been rewarded for a 15-point-in-14-minutes outing in a win over Utah the night before but didn't even play until there were three minutes left in the third quarter against the Warriors.
And it's not like Johnson is running the offense with any real positive impact. He has a combined 10 assists and 10 points on 5 of 16 shooting while averaging 10.5 minutes in the eight games he's played (he didn't play in one game).
* Because the Lakers' win was all about Kobe in the fourth, Pau Gasol received no kudos from this Sacramento side. Not that he didn't deserve any, as he had another stellar night at the office with 31 points on 10 of 15 shooting with 10 rebounds. Kobe had 10 boards as well, bringing their collective total on the night to 65 points and 20 rebounds.
Such ridiculous production made me think of the Lakers' shoot-a-round on the Arco Arena floor on Tuesday morning, when Kings TV's Angela Tsai was asking Kobe what superhero he fashioned himself after. He picked Batman.
Tsai then asked if that made Pau his Robin. Kobe said no - mainly because the visual of Pau in tights was just too weird. I digress, but that seemed a little hypocritical...
Kobe couldn't come up with a better pick. But since Dwight Howard is the new Superman (sorry, Shaq), let's just say that this is like Batman and Spiderman joining forces to dominate the hoops planet. And if it's Lakers v. Orlando in the Finals, well then this is what it will look like.
* Speaking of monikers, Kings director of player personnel and TV personality Jerry Reynolds deserves kudos for his new nickname of Beno Udrih - The Tasmanian Slovenian.
With Udrih's wicked spin he does so often through the paint and the fact that he's been playing at a furious pace, it's perfect in every way. There was even a printout at Udrih's locker with the new nickname and a picture of Beno next to the Tasmanian Devil.
* John Salmons was a different man - scoring in transition, finding opportunity instead of waiting for them. He scored 17 points on 7 of 10 shooting, and it was one of those performances in which you can't help but wonder if this was Kobe-related as well. KB is so phenomenal that he absolutely inspires opponents to raise their games. Salmons certainly did that, scoring in double digits for the first time since Feb. 9. What's more, his defense had everything to do with Kobe being contained through most of three quarters. - Sam Amick