The start of January seemed perfect for the Kings to make strides in their quest to return to the playoffs after a 10-season absence.
Eight of nine games would be at home, including a seven-game homestand that concluded Wednesday night against the Indiana Pacers at Golden 1 Center.
But the Kings went 1-6 on the homestand, falling 106-100 to the Pacers and losing Rudy Gay for the season because of a torn Achilles’. Instead of securing a better hold on the eighth spot in the Western Conference, Sacramento is in 11th, 1 1/2 games behind the No. 8 Denver Nuggets, a half-game behind the No. 9 Portland Trail Blazers and percentage points behind the No. 10 New Orleans Pelicans.
The Kings generated momentum by winning four consecutive games in late December. But they have lost eight of 10, with seven of those losses at home.
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With the season at the midway point, the Kings are in playoff contention but have no reason to feel comfortable. As they begin an eight-game trip Friday against the Memphis Grizzlies, they’re still seeking an identity under first-year coach Dave Joerger with players still adjusting to each other.
“I don’t know if we know what our style is,” Joerger said.
If the Kings’ problems on the homestand contin ue – most notably slow starts to games, poor 3-point defense and a surge in turnovers – the team could fall further behind in the playoff picture by the end of the month.
And as the losses have piled up, the Kings have yelled more at the officials.
“It’s a lot of different things, but turning the ball over, cutting it down, and just manning up and defending,” guard Garrett Temple said after Sunday’s loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder. “That’s what we’ve got to do.”
The Kings are 8-12 on the road with solid wins at Memphis and Toronto. But their 8-13 record at home is a letdown after so many road games in the season’s first two months.
Sacramento’s struggles at the start of games have been especially distressing. Trailing early isn’t uncommon. But the Kings trailed by more than 10 points in the first six games of the homestand, then rallied in the second half, only to fall short every time except in their win over the Detroit Pistons on Jan. 10.
The Kings were in a much better mood to start Wednesday’s game, when they led by 22 in the first half. They also displayed a calmer tone with the officials, something the players said would be emphasized.
“They’re going to call what they call,” Temple said. “I’ve never seen a call change because a person is talking to the official. It is what it is. They’re human beings just like us, so if you constantly berate them about calls, that’s not going to help you. So we’ve got to just leave them alone, try to control what we can control.”