Windhorst: Lakers targeting ‘inexperienced’ Kings in playoffs originally appeared on NBC Sports Bayare
The Kings’ early surge in the 2022-23 NBA season came as a shock to the league but was brushed off by many who predicted their success would quickly fade. It hasn’t.
Sacramento currently has a 35-25 record, good enough for third in the loaded West. They’ve upset teams and played in historic contests this seasonbut have managed to remain grounded and focused on snapping a franchise’s 16-year playoff drought.
Still, the respect isn’t being reciprocated, not even at this point in the season. Coach Mike Brown knew the Kings would be “hunted” down the final stretchbut it appears one Western Conference team is already putting a target on their backs.
The Los Angeles Lakers, who currently sit in the 12th spot in the conference, reportedly want to face the Kings in a first-round NBA playoff series.
“The reason that [Lakers coach] Darvin Ham is talking about sixth [seed]is that they’re targeting the Sacramento Kings,” ESPN’s Brian Windhorst reported on “Get Up” on Monday morning. “The Sacramento Kings are in third, I think they’re very likely to finish third — that’s the team they want in the first round, an inexperienced team.
“That’s their dream scenario. If you’re a Lakers fan, you’re dreaming of somehow getting into sixth against the Kings, because you could end up in a tougher situation if you fall elsewhere on the bracket.”
It’s an interesting take for a team that entered Monday one game out of the final play-in spot. Of course, there’s plenty of time to change that, though.
Windhorst notes that the Lakers’ schedule is “favorable” relative to other teams’ upcoming schedules. But if Los Angeles has any hope of going from the 12th to the sixth seed, as it reportedly desires, it will need its star players on the floor.
If LeBron James and Anthony Davis can stay healthy for the majority of the Lakers’ remaining 21 games, Windhorst believes their schedule will give them “a window to make something possible.”
But that’s already in jeopardy as The Athletic’s Shams Charania reported Monday afternoon, citing sources, that James is expected to miss an extended period of time with a foot injury. Sources told Charania that the Lakers are bracing for the possibility of the 38-year-old missing several weeks.
Windhorst also appeared on ESPN’s “First Take” on Monday morning to further break down Ham and the Lakers’ dream playoff scenario.
“The Lakers have a specific target in mind,” Windhorst said. “Darvin Ham said they can get to six, he wanted to get that established on the record to put the carrot out there. There’s a reason why. It looks to me, and most of the league, that the Sacramento Kings, for the first time in a generation, are going to make the playoffs, and it looks to me that they’re gonna be in the three [seed].
“With all due respect to De’Aaron Fox, who had his seventh consecutive 30-point game yesterday, the team you are targeting is the Sacramento Kings. So the Lakers are saying, ‘Let’s get ourselves to Sacramento,’ and I agree. I think when their roster is assembled as it is now, they are a top-six seed in the Western Conference.”
The Lakers have won three straight games and hold a 29-32 record.
Some of their next matchups will be against teams like the Golden State Warriors and Dallas Mavericks who continue their up-and-down seasons. Teams slated for the play-in tournament include the Minnesota Timberwolves, New Orleans Pelicans and Utah Jazz — all teams that should be relatively easy opponents on paper for the Lakers.
And if it does come down to a Lakers-Kings playoff series, “First Take” host Stephen A. Smith chimed in on who he’d take to advance to the second round.
“Young teams don’t win,” Smith said. “When you look at a team like Sacramento, who I’m very, very impressed with. Mike Brown to me is the runaway Coach of the Year. De’Aaron Fox, that is the only argument Magic Johnson and I ever got into, I said, ‘Draft De’Aaron Fox, not Lonzo [Ball].’ Now I know Lonzo’s been hurt, and we wish him good health, but I don’t give a damn if he was healthy. He ain’t De’Aaron Fox. I’m telling you that right now.
“And Malik Monk, I’m so proud of that brother. Boy, is he balling. Why didn’t the Lakers keep him? I’m just saying. Sacramento is relatively young. And in a playoff series between Sacramento and LA – – if both teams are healthy — I’m going with the Lakers.”
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While the Lakers — and seemingly the rest of the NBA world — might view the Kings as an easy matchup, recent history says otherwise. Sacramento won the regular-season series against Los Angeles three-games-to-one this season, with its lone loss coming by two points.
The Kings all season have done an incredible job proving the outside world wrong, and that probably won’t change come playoffs.