The losing streak grows but the resolve remains the same.
The Kings are falling deeper in the standings, now closer to the bottom of the Western Conference than a playoff spot after Saturday’s 105-92 loss to the Denver Nuggets at Golden 1 Center.
Prior the All-Star break, the Kings were just 1 1/2 games behind the Nuggets for the final playoff spot in the West. They now sit six games behind the Nuggets after losing their eighth consecutive game and are 4 1/2 games ahead of the Los Angeles Lakers for the worst record in the conference since trading DeMarcus Cousins.
But Kings coach Dave Joerger isn’t throwing away the final 16 games of the season. He’s still going to play his veterans and young players will earn their minutes and not just be given playing time.
And, to Joerger’s point, he is using young players.
“These guys are playing,” Joerger said. “I played Buddy Hield 30 minutes. I played (Willie) Cauley-Stein 35 and a half, I played Skal (Labissiere) 20. Could I play them 48 minutes but I don’t think that’s best for them.”
Joerger has to make sure he keeps his players accountable and working, even amid their worst losing streak of the season. The Kings are 1-8 since trading Cousins.
The players support Joerger and his approach. The Kings will keep their draft pick if it stays in the top 10, but the coach is not preaching a message that losing is acceptable.
“I’m very happy with coach,” shooting guard Arron Afflalo said. “Throughout all of this, he’s remained very positive and encouraged us to win games. He’s playing to win, he’s doing the best that he can with our roster. I commend him for that. So, from a veteran perspective, you’ve always got to keep hope alive and to to go out there and take it one game at a time.”
Guard Garrett Temple said there was a player’s meeting prior to last Sunday’s game against Utah to emphasize the importance of the week’s games, which included two games against the Nuggets, if they wanted to keep their playoff hopes realistic.
“Unfortunately we haven’t been able to win like we wanted to,” Temple said. “Mathematically, we still have a chance, though.”
Those chances fade with each loss, but the players like knowing Joerger isn’t giving up on them.
“Whenever you’re in a situation like this, you want to know what the coach is thinking,” Temple said. “The way he’s playing us, continuing to play myself, Arron, A.T. (Anthony Tolliver), Kosta (Koufos), you know that we’re trying to win games. It’s just a different situation.”
Having lost in overtime Friday night to Washington, the Kings could not keep up with the Nuggets (31-35).
Guard Gary Harris scored a game-high 24 points for Denver. Center Nikola Jokic had 20 points and 14 rebounds.
Hield led the Kings with 17 points. Tyreke Evans scored 16 off the bench for Sacramento (25-41).
“Our guys are in there fighting like crazy,” Joerger said. “Losing still hurts.”