Kings-Lakers Preview

The Associated Press

Kobe Bryant and Steve Nash are still out, and the Los Angeles Lakers own a losing record.

Coach Mike D'Antoni, though, thinks they're a better team than last season.

The Lakers can return to .500 by capitalizing on the start of a seemingly favorable stretch of the schedule Sunday night when they attempt to continue their home success against the Sacramento Kings.

Los Angeles (6-7) went 45-37 last season before being swept by San Antonio in the opening round of the playoffs due partly to missing Bryant, who is still recovering from a torn Achilles tendon. Nash has been limited to six games this season and is out for at least another week with nerve root irritation.

However, the Lakers are coming off back-to-back wins for the first time this season, beating Golden State 102-95 on Friday after winning 114-99 over Detroit five days earlier.

Pau Gasol had 24 points against the Warriors and is scoring 13.8 per game, easily the lowest scoring average by any team leader in the league.

D'Antoni feels improved camaraderie is starting to pay off.

"The biggest thing for me is everyone is accepting of the guy in front of him or beside him," D'Antoni said. "Everyone is rooting for everyone, and we just didn't have that last year. Obviously we are not as talented, but it's a lot better team."

D'Antoni would feel even better if the Lakers take advantage of their upcoming stretch against teams with losing records. After facing the Kings (4-8), the Lakers begin a three-game road trip at Washington on Tuesday before visiting Brooklyn and Detroit.

The Lakers have won nine of their last 10 home games against Sacramento, averaging 110.8 points, and took both meetings at Staples Center last season by double digits.

The Kings are hoping to avoid losing there for a second straight night, having fallen 103-102 to the Clippers on Saturday. They rallied from a 20-point deficit, but DeMarcus Cousins missed a potential game-winning jumper at the buzzer.

"I'm tired of being a part of going down 20 and then trying to come back later in the game," said Cousins, who scored 17 of his 23 points in the second half and grabbed 19 rebounds. "The way we played the last stretch of that game, we've got to start games off the same way so that we won't be in those situations and we'd have a better chance."

Sacramento's average of 22.6 points in the first quarter is among the lowest in the NBA, including 19.8 on the road while going 1-3.

Cousins has posted a season-best three straight double-doubles, averaging 23.0 points and 14.3 rebounds, but he's scored 13.8 per game in nine career meetings with the Lakers.

The Kings have surpassed 100 points in three consecutive games, and they're facing a Los Angeles team that has held three straight opponents under that mark despite ranking among the NBA's worst in points allowed at 103.2 per game.

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