It’s the time of the season when good teams gear up for the playoffs, while bad teams tire of their harmful habits.
The latter applies to the Kings, who dropped their fifth consecutive game, 101-95 to the Utah Jazz on Sunday night at Sleep Train Arena.
The Kings again committed too many turnovers (20) and allowed an opponent to score a career high. Two games earlier, Houston’s James Harden had a career-best 51 points. Sunday, Utah rookie Rodney Hood scored a season-high 25 points.
And the Kings’ defense, which routinely allows even the worst scoring teams to top 100 points, did so again. The Jazz admittedly struggle on offense, averaging 94.8 points.
“Utah’s not a great offensive team, but we gave them enough possessions, and they scored 100 points,” Kings coach George Karl said. “They should have never scored 100 points, but they did because our defense had its flaws at times. But more than anything, our offense created bad defense.”
The Jazz has been one of the league’s most improved teams since the All-Star break, going 16-8. The Kings are 8-16 since the break under Karl.
“We’re inconsistent, and that’s probably the personality of a lot of teams that are losing games,” Karl said. “You don’t put solid minutes on the court. I don’t think you have to be spectacular to be a good basketball team. You’ve got to be simple, solid and fundamental and let the game give you those explosions that come.”
The Kings might get help this week. Rudy Gay could return to action after suffering a concussion last Monday at Memphis. Gay, who has missed three games, had a pregame workout with assistant coach Micah Nori.
Until Gay returns, the Kings must find ways to avoid being outworked by their opponents. The Jazz grabbed 14 offensive rebounds, frustrating Karl.
The Kings’ DeMarcus Cousins had a game-high 12 rebounds to go with 26 points, but the Jazz outrebounded Sacramento 47-43.
“You shouldn’t be playing 20 minutes a game and not get a rebound,” Karl said. “The Coke machine can get a rebound some nights. Sometimes we have guys play 20, 25 minutes and don’t get a rebound. I don’t understand that.”
Derrick Williams played 26 minutes off the Kings’ bench and had no rebounds.
“It’s a habit,” Karl said of the trend of a lack of rebounding. “I think we over-rely on Cuz being a great rebounder. We know he’s a great rebounder, and we think we don’t have to be there sometimes, and that’s probably the case once in a while.
“But generally, fundamentally, you make the mistake not to be there, and we make the fundamental mistake of not being there when we should be there.”
Cousins said it takes a group effort to correct that.
“It’s a gang rebounding thing, especially when we go small,” he said. “All five have to rebound. We can’t just depend on the big to rebound.”
Under Karl, the Kings use a small lineup around Cousins more often. That sometimes leaves Cousins going against two or three opponents in pursuit of defensive rebounds.
“It’s a tough balance because when we’re small, we need all five to rebound, but we want to get out and run,” Cousins said. “We’ve got to find a way to do it.”
Add that to the list of habits the Kings need to break.