The Los Angeles Lakers suffered a heartbreaking loss in the first game of LeBron James’ injury layoff on Thursday night, falling to the Sacramento Kings thanks to a magnificent buzzer-beater from Bogdan Bogdanovic.
Bogdanovic’s effort from 3-point range sealed the contest 117-116 and capped a dramatic comeback after the Lakers led by as many as 15 deep into the fourth quarter without James, who remains day-to-day with a groin injury sustained on Christmas Day.
Despite taking on a Kings side that has been surprisingly solid this season and is now 19-16, the young Lakers lineup was seemingly in control for most of the game. Kyle Kuzma stepped up with 33 points and Brandon Ingram added 22, while Lonzo Ball scored 20 and chimed in with 12 assists.
When Ingram was fouled after a wild exchange in the paint with 4.6 seconds left and the Lakers ahead by one, victory seemingly beckoned for Los Angeles. But Ingram could only convert once from the line, allowing Bogdanovic’s subsequent moment of glory.
“This is the first close game we’ve been in that he’s not there,” said Lakers coach Luke Walton. “If LeBron James is playing in that game it probably finishes a little differently. When you get the best closer in the game on your team, then you rely on him to do that. All that said, we made enough plays to win.”
The degree of difficulty for the game-winner should not be under-estimated. The 26-year-old from Serbia was stepping back, moving to his right, and firing off a contested shot over 7-footer Tyson Chandler. Regardless, his aim was perfect, taking his tally for the night to 23 and delighting the crowd at the Golden 1 Center.
“We switched and I don’t think we necessarily should have switched, but credit to him, he made a hell of a shot over a 7-footer at the buzzer,” Kuzma said. “It’s always a tough way to lose.”
Defeat dropped Los Angeles to 20-15 and fifth place in the tightly-packed Western Conference. With James expected to miss several games, a slump could have serious playoff implications, with the West’s top 13 teams separated by only 6½ games with the halfway point of the campaign looming.
“We keep things interesting,” said Kings coach Dave Joerger. “We scrambled around and got loose balls and were able to get out in transition. Heck of a win.”
Follow Martin Rogers on Twitter @RogersJourno.