The opener of the Kings’ four-game trip could be tricky.
The Charlotte Bobcats, Tuesday’s opponent, don’t feature any superstars. They aren’t above .500 and aren’t championship contenders.
It’s exactly the kind of team that should worry Kings coach Michael Malone.
The Kings are coming off a 15-point win over the Houston Rockets, who feature two of the NBA’s marquee players in James Harden and Dwight Howard. Before that game, however, Sacramento lost to Phoenix, which lacks stars but plays hard and pressures opponents.
That loss came after the Kings were blown out at home by Utah last Wednesday. The Jazz has the worst record in the Western Conference.
The loss to Utah came two days after the Kings beat Dallas and its stars, Dirk Nowitzki and Monta Ellis.
Bobcats owner Michael Jordan is far more popular than any of his players. But short of Jordan suiting up for the game, the Kings must find the resolve to play with the focus they showed against the Rockets.
Malone is still trying to gauge the Kings and figure out how to get the most out of his players nightly while integrating four new players into his system.
“No, I haven’t figured this team out yet. We’re a work in a progress,” Malone said. “We’ve shown in (the Houston) game, the Dallas game, where it looks like we’re really making steps in the right direction, and then we’ll play a Utah and a Phoenix, and it looks like we haven’t even had a training camp. I don’t know what to make of it. I have not figured it out – I can tell you that – but I’m going to keep on working to get better every day.”
This is the Kings’ longest trip of the season to date. A three-game trip last month featured one game in Phoenix and back-to-back games in Los Angeles.
Malone said many times earlier this season the Kings did not have the talent to win without maximum effort every night.
“That’s what the best teams do – they’re consistent with everything they do,” guard Isaiah Thomas said. “We’ve got to take that step forward.”
Even with the changes that have brought in Rudy Gay and Derrick Williams, the Kings (7-15) aren’t good enough to overlook opponents.
Playing consistently over the next four games will be key. After Charlotte, the Kings play Atlanta, which already beat them in Sacramento.
Then comes a trip to Miami to face the defending NBA champion, a game the Kings figure to be excited to play.
But they could get embarrassed if slack off at Orlando the following night.
“We’ve got to know if we don’t bring it, we’re not going to win,” Thomas said. “We might have close games, but we’re just not going to win. We need to have that attitude that we’re going to bring it, we’re going to have fun and work extremely hard each and every time out.”
DeMarcus Cousins, who is averaging 22.0 points, said the Kings have all the preparation needed to compete and win games.
The Kings center said it’s a matter of implementing the right game plan and playing as hard as they did against the Rockets.
“It’s just staying focused,” Cousins said. “Stay consistent, knowing the game plan and going out and executing it.”