The Kings know when they step on the court these days, the expectations from most aren’t very high.
Their three-time All-Star, DeMarcus Cousins, was traded at the All-Star Game. Their star small forward, Rudy Gay, has been out since January and the team is sitting out veterans on a nightly basis to put inexperienced players on the court.
Still the Kings have to suit for games, knowing many of their fans welcome them losing if it means the team might land a higher draft pick.
“People don’t understand how hard it is to be in our shoes and come to work every day with the circumstances we have dealt with,” guard Darren Collison said. “But to be together still, to still have fun, it shows a lot about this team. I’m real happy to be a part of this team. We’re not winning games but the way we’re going about our business, we’re losing games together, we’re winning games together and we’re still trying to find a way to have fun.”
The Kings had plenty of fun Sunday at Staples Center, pulling off an improbable comeback for a 98-97 win over the Los Angeles Clippers to end a four-game losing streak.
The Kings trailed 94-76 with 5:16 to play before closing the game on a 22-3 run.
According to ESPN Stats and Research, teams leading by 18 or more points with five minutes to play had won 1,780 straight games. Overall in the last 20 seasons, teams were 6,746-1 in that situation.
How did the Kings pull it off? They leaned on a lineup of backups most of the fourth quarter and outscored the Clippers 33-21.
“We could have put Darren and those guys back out there when it got close,” said Kings coach Dave Joerger. “But at the same time (the young players) brought us back. It’s a good experience for them. We kept playing and made some plays and the little things matter. I’m really proud of them.”
Buddy Hield shook off a bad start to score 11 points in the fourth, including two 3-pointers in six seconds that cut the deficit to 96-93 with 2:13 to play.
Hield stole the ball to set up his second 3-pointer.
“We saw they started chirping with each other and we were able to see them collapse,” Hield said. “When a team collapses, they’re in distress and and it’s easy when you can catch them slipping. We were able to catch them slipping, we made a few shots and Langston (Galloway’s) shot was even big, too.”
Galloway’s second 3-pointer of the fourth pulled the Kings within one at 97-96, with 1:26 to play.
The Kings took the lead with 1.8 seconds to play on Willie Cauley-Stein’s putback of a Ben McLemore miss.
“I just remember taking off and seeing Ben had a layup and the only thing I’m thinking is, ‘If this ball comes off, I’ve just got to grab it and put it up,’ ” Cauley-Stein said. “And it just came right to my hands.”
The Kings emphasis on young players after the All-Star break has them at 4-12 since trading Cousins.
While losses were expected with a youth movement, Collison said it’s important not to allow young players to accept losing as a way of NBA life.
“It’s one thing to play young guys, but it’s another to play young guys and get a victory,” Collison said. “You just don’t want to play young guys and just keep losing because then it becomes contagious. In the NBA, it’s very hard to win a game. Once you get a good win under your belt, you start feeling yourself a little bit, you start feeling confident for the next game.
“I think it’s important for these young guys to see how to compete, how to play at a high level, play against a really good team and win.”
Collison led the Kings (28-45) with 19 points. Hield and Anthony Tolliver each had 15 points. Cauley-Stein matched his career high with 14 rebounds, with his lone offensive rebound being the putback to win the game.
DeAndre Jordan led the Clippers (44-31) with 20 points and 11 rebounds. Chris Paul had 17 points and nine assists, and Blake Griffin added 17 points.
“It’s a bad loss, probably the worst one in the regular season in my career,” Paul said. “It’s tough. That was a bad one. That was a bad loss.”
Summer plans – The Kings will hold Malachi Richardson out the rest of the season as he recovers from a partially torn hamstring.
Richardson was injured Feb. 15 at Golden State and was due to be out at least four to six weeks.
With only nine games left in the regular season, the team is not going to rush Richardson back into the lineup and allow him to prepare for his offseason training program and summer league.
The 22nd overall pick in last year’s NBA draft after a season at Syracuse, Richardson averaged 3.6 points in 22 games. He spent most of his time playing in the NBA Development League but was playing more with the Kings before the injury.
“I definitely wanted to get out there and play,” Richardson said. “But we don’t think together as a group, it would be the best decision to play one or two games, it makes no sense. One or two games isn’t going to do too much besides have me sore after the games. So we figured it would be best if I shut it down and got ready for the summer.
More injury news – Guard Ty Lawson (right knee stiffness) was a late scratch from the lineup. Arron Afflalo and Kosta Koufos were both out for planned rest.