There’s no need to judge the Kings by their overall record.
What matters is Sacramento – after losing to the league-worst Brooklyn Nets 109-100 Wednesday at Golden 1 Center – is 1-3 since trading DeMarcus Cousins.
The Nets had lost 16 in a row prior to Wednesday and were allowing a league-high 114.4 points. But the Kings are struggling to find their identity post-Cousins and now own a three-game losing streak.
The Kings never led Wednesday, falling behind 21-6 to start the game.
“I hate to keep repeating it – it’s our defense,” said Kings guard Darren Collison. “Just not starting off with the right mindset, and it kind of carried throughout the whole game.”
The offense is in disarray, too. Since scoring 116 last Thursday, the Kings are averaging 91 points in their last three games. The starting lineup managed only two of Sacramento’s 12 assists, both from Collison.
The player and ball movement seen by the Kings before trading Cousins has been replaced by players dribbling too much, unsure of where they fit.
That comes with the territory of management’s decision to play younger players and try to improve draft position rather than make a playoff push.
“I think everybody’s taking it upon themselves to try to make plays instead of just letting the game come to you,” Collison said. “I don’t think we’re necessarily focusing on playing the right way. I know we have a lot of guys who are unselfish but when you see a guy like DeMarcus Cousins, your best player out, a lot of guys try to take it upon themselves to score, to make a play, instead of just letting the game come to them. It’s difficult but it’s part of the transition.”
The Kings (25-36) are three games out of the playoffs.
Brooklyn (10-49) played aggressively from the start and looked more connected than the Kings.
“They physically just kind of manhandled us around the perimeter of the floor. We ended up dribbling too much,” said Kings coach Dave Joerger. “They came out and played with a lot of force, got to the rim.”
The Kings managed only 24 points in the paint, shot 43.2 percent and gave up 18 points off 15 turnovers.
“We just have to get stronger with the basketball – our young guys especially,” Joerger said. “Where they can get the ball and get catches and then we can play off those guys, get everybody involved with the ball moving.”
The Kings lack the depth to rough up opponents, especially a team with a former All-Star center in Brook Lopez (24 points, eight rebounds).
Jeremy Lin had 17 points and five assists for the Nets.
Buddy Hield scored a team-high 16 points for Sacramento off the bench. Ty Lawson had 15 points and nine assists and Tyreke Evans added 15 points.
The Kings have three days off until they host Utah, one of the NBA’s better defensive teams. So it doesn’t get any easier. But losing to the Nets stung, even if the Kings’ roster chemistry remains a work in progress.
“It’s inexcusable,” Collison said. “It’s embarrassing, especially playing against a team that’s hungry for a win in our home building. We know we’re better than this and we’ve got to play better.”