Another lethargic start sends Kings to defeat

Published: Monday, Apr. 15, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1C
Last Modified: Monday, Apr. 15, 2013 - 8:33 am

HOUSTON – If you've watched the beginning of the last two Kings games and wondered if players were already thinking about offseason plans, you aren't the only one.

That question is being asked within the locker room after another ragged start led to a 121-100 thumping by the Houston Rockets on Sunday night at Toyota Center. It was the Kings' second consecutive defeat and sixth in the last seven games.

The Kings began the night taking a passive interest in defending All-Star guard James Harden, and except for a second-quarter stretch when the reserves provided a spark and cut the deficit to three, they were never in the game.

Harden, who scored 15 points in the first quarter, finished with a game-high 29 points and had nine assists for Houston (45-35).

"Guys just aren't playing hard," guard Isaiah Thomas said. "Guys have clocked out already. I don't know what it is. It's frustrating. I'm tired of it. It's embarrassing."

Thomas didn't mince words describing the effort to start Friday's game at San Antonio and Sunday's contest.

"That's the definition of a losing team," Thomas said. "You get scored on, it doesn't bother you. You're not scoring, it doesn't bother you. That's losing, a losing atmosphere. It's all a mindset; it's all mental. You can change it easily by playing hard and playing together. That's all we need."

The Kings (28-52) have two games left, tonight at Oklahoma City and Wednesday at home against the Los Angeles Clippers. Thomas is concerned about the team's attitude.

"Definitely worried," Thomas said. "We're not playing good at all. We're not playing together. First and foremost, we're not playing hard."

Center DeMarcus Cousins also had no explanation as to why the Kings looked so disengaged early. He also isn't sure if he will play tonight.

Cousins drew a technical foul from Violet Palmer with 2:47 left in the first quarter. It was his 16th this season and comes with an automatic one-game suspension.

Cousins ran into Rockets forward Greg Smith and pushed him out of the way as they ran upcourt and were tangled up.

Unless it is rescinded, Cousins will not play tonight.

"She apologized," Cousins said of the call.

This is the second year in a row Cousins will see if a technical is rescinded so he can avoid a suspension and play in a late-season game at Oklahoma City. Last season, the technical was retracted.

Kings coach Keith Smart said he thought it should have been a personal foul but added, "They had to call the call they saw on the floor."

Smart said he would plan to have Cousins available tonight.

"I think you have to do it that way," Smart said. "Obviously, we've been in this position before."

Cousins wouldn't try to predict if he would play.

"I hope so," he said. "You never know."

Smart said he didn't know why the Kings have started games badly on this trip but isn't concerned tonight will be a repeat.

"One thing this group has done, and I've got to give it to this group: We take the lump, get hit on the chin, and this group all year long has been able to put the last game behind and move on," Smart said.

One King who made the most of his time in Houston was Cole Aldrich. The seldom-used third-year center, who was traded by the Rockets in February, posted career highs of 26 minutes, 12 points, 12 rebounds and four blocked shots.

"I just continue to work," Aldrich said. "We only have two games left, but it's how you finish. That's my mindset coming in. We're not going to make the playoffs, but that doesn't mean you still can't work."

Follow The Bee's Jason Jones on Twitter @mr_jasonjones and read more about the team at www.sacbee.com/kings.

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