Despite their losing record, the Kings often discuss being within reach of the final postseason spot in the Western Conference.
But nights like Monday should remind the Kings eyes will roll unless they back up that talk.
For the second time in three games, Sacramento blew a double-digit lead in a loss. Playing without standout center Joel Embiid, the Philadelphia 76ers looked like the team pursuing a playoff berth, blitzing the Kings in the third quarter and beating the Kings 122-119 at Wells Fargo Center.
When Arron Afflalo’s potential tying 3-point attempt at the buzzer came up short, the Kings fell to 3-4 on their eight-game trip, which ends Tuesday against Houston.
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We should have been able to close this one out on our own. We gave them life in the third quarter. They gained some momentum.
DeMarcus Cousins, Kings center
Sacramento (19-29) played the final 58.5 seconds without DeMarcus Cousins, who fouled out with 46 points, 15 rebounds and five assists. But at that point, the score shouldn’t have even been close, let alone the Kings trailing.
Sacramento shot 55.4 percent, including 44.8 percent from 3-point range, and had a season-high 31 assists. But they gave up a season-high 42 points in the third quarter.
Shoddy defense and ballhandling – 21 turnovers that led to 30 Philadelphia points – made Cousins’ dominant stat line a footnote.
Cousins, who was upset at the call that ended his night, said the Kings had only themselves to blame.
“Even with the unfortunate call there at the end, we put this on ourselves,” said Cousins, who had a team-high eight turnovers. “It shouldn’t have came down to one play. We should have been able to close this one out on our own. We gave them life in the third quarter. They gained some momentum.”
After trailing by 16 midway through the second quarter, the 76ers cut the deficit to 55-48 at halftime. Philadelphia poured it on the third quarter, sinking 17 of 24 shots (70.8 percent). The 42 points were the most the Kings have allowed in a quarter this season, surpassing the Los Angeles Clippers’ 40 in the first quarter Nov. 18.
“After the first quarter, we relaxed a lot,” Kings coach Dave Joerger said. “We didn’t guard anybody for the next three quarters.”
Seven 76ers scored in double figures, led by Robert Covington, who had 12 of his 23 points in the third quarter. Rookie Dario Saric came off the bench to score 17 points, and former King Nik Stauskas had 16.
“They just beat us straight up,” Joerger said. “Just show us the ball and drive, drive, drive, drive, drive. We didn’t keep the ball in front of us, which was one of the bigger keys for (Monday’s game).”
70.8 76ers’ shooting percentage in the third quarter
When the Kings struggle, turnovers usually are a major problem.
“I’m seeing unforced errors,” Cousins said. “With our turnovers, I think a lot of the time we’re just trying to make the right play.”
The defense needs work, too, after allowing Philadelphia to gain confidence. The 76ers shot 54.2 percent and had 32 assists, and their 74-point second half was their best-scoring half this season.
“That’s playing hand grenades,” said Kings center Willie Cauley-Stein, who had a season-high 17 points off the bench. “It’s hit or miss. You can either put the flame out or they’re going to keep it going. You’ve got to go in and try to match their energy straight off the bench. It’s hard to do, but that’s why we’re here.”
Anthony Tolliver, who scored 16 points off the bench, said if Sacramento ends up one or two games out of a playoff berth, this loss could really sting.
“In order to combat that,” Tolliver said, “we have to win some games nobody expects us to, like the one in Cleveland. That was a big one, and hopefully we can get another one in Houston. We definitely have to do better at closing out games and being smart to finish out games and get Ws.”