The Kings reached the midway point of the season one game out of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference. That would seem to be good news for a team that hasn’t reached the postseason in 10 years.
But it’s not that simple.
The Kings’ second-leading scorer, Rudy Gay, is out for the season with a ruptured left Achilles’ tendon, and the team started a critical eight-game trip Friday by losing to the Memphis Grizzlies 107-91 at FedExForum.
“I don’t think we played really well,” said Kings coach Dave Joerger. “We didn’t make shots, we threw the ball away, and we didn’t (focus).”
DeMarcus Cousins led the Kings (16-26) with 19 points and 10 rebounds. He moved past Peja Stojakovic for second in the Sacramento era with 9,504 points. Mitch Richmond holds the mark with 12,070 points. Stojakovic had 9,498 points.
The Kings led 23-15 after the first quarter, but a seven-turnover second started their slide, and the Grizzlies broke the game open in the third quarter.
The Kings have lost four straight and nine of 11, including six of seven on their recent homestand. The Kings are 11th in the West ,and this trip could go a long way to determining how they proceed the rest of the season.
Hosting playoff games would be a nice way to finish the inaugural season of Golden 1 Center, but a bad trip could force the front office to think about next season and beyond. That means rather than playing to win games, giving young players experience could become the priority.
Without Gay, making the playoffs becomes a lot tougher. And the Kings cannot afford to barely miss the playoffs and finish outside of the bottom 10 in the NBA and lose their protected draft pick. This is the last year the pick can be lost as part of the J.J. Hickson-Omri Casspi trade with Cleveland from July 2011. Cleveland dealt the rights to that pick to Chicago.
After this year, that pick becomes a second-rounder.
But even if the Kings keep their pick, there is uncertainty.
Philadelphia can swap picks with the Kings this year as part of the 2015 trade that was a salary dump to send Carl Landry, Jason Thompson and Nik Stauskas to the 76ers.
At this stage, the Kings aren’t going to a youth movement.
Joerger stayed with an eight-man rotation most of Friday, leaning on his veterans. Second-year center Willie Cauley-Stein and fourth-year guard Ben McLemore did not play until the Kings were down 19 entering the fourth quarter.
Rookies Malachi Richardson and Skal Labissiere played later in the fourth, but rookie George Papagiannis did not play at all.
With the playoffs still a possibility, going to the youngsters could be surrendering too soon for a team with so many veterans.
Before those decisions must be made, the Kings have to get through this trip.
The Kings have played some of their best games on the road, with three of their eight wins away from home coming at Toronto, Utah and Memphis, all likely to be in the playoffs.
Sacramento must do a better job of taking care of the ball and rebounding. Memphis (26-19) outrebounded the Kings 58-35 and had an 18-4 advantage in second-chance points.
“(The turnovers are) unforced,” said Kings guard Ty Lawson. “It’s a lot of us just not reading each other well and trying to take on two people.”
Lawson had 13 points and five assists.
Memphis was led by Marc Gasol (28 points) and Zach Randolph (20 points).