Willie Cauley-Stein called for more accountability from himself and teammates after the Kings’ blowout loss to the Clippers in Los Angeles last month.
And much like the problems of this season, Cauley-Stein was repeating himself after Saturday afternoon’s 126-105 loss to the Clippers at Staples Center.
A slow start and bad defense led to the Kings’ fourth straight loss and seventh in eight games, dropping Sacramento (13-29) to a half-game behind Memphis for the Western Conference’s worst record.
“Honestly I don’t really know,” Cauley-Stein said of how to fix the bad starts. “It’s got to come from us, but it’s got to come from us holding each other accountable. Like, enough is enough. I think Coach is at that point where he’s not going to play you if you’re not doing the right thing, and I think that’s how it should be.”
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That’s the kind of culture the Kings said they wanted to build when they went with a roster of 10 players with three seasons or less experience. They sought accountability and a mindset that no one player is bigger than the team.
Cauley-Stein said coach Dave Joerger might need to treat the Kings like a college team, and cut playing time for mistakes, regardless of age or experience.
“If you’re not doing your job right, next man up, you get your turn next time it comes around,” the third-year center said. “I think it’s got to happen like that, even for myself.”
The biggest mistake the Kings make many nights isn’t one that’s measured statistically. It’s the mistake of not coming out ready to play and falling behind in the first quarter.
The Kings have used 18 different starting lineups, mixed younger players with older players, and the problem has persisted.
After Thursday’s loss to the Clippers in Sacramento, Bogdan Bogdanovic said the Kings’ slow starts come down to a lack of preparation.
The need to play with high energy from the start is preached constantly, but as Cauley-Stein said Saturday, the Kings didn’t show that until the second half. They trailed 64-45 at halftime.
“I think it’s tough on Coach because we’re pros and you should be able to take care of that at a pro level, but we’re also young and a lot of us just came out of college, too,” Cauley-Stein said. “We might have to take it back to a college feel for a second until dudes recognize this is how it is and how it’s got to be.”
The youth excuse doesn’t explain Saturday, when the two youngest starters were rookie De’Aaron Fox and Cauley-Stein. Veterans Zach Randolph, George Hill and Garrett Temple were the other starters.
Cauley-Stein (23 points, 13 rebounds) and Fox (17 points, career-high matching 10 assists) were the only Kings to play more than 30 minutes. Temple, who was tasked with chasing high-scoring guard Lou Williams, played 26 minutes while Randolph and Hill played only 19 minutes each.
Cauley-Stein was asked if the energy issue is surprising considering there are still a lot of young players on the roster.
“Yeah, but we’ve got a lot of old dudes playing, too, so it’s not just young dudes playing,” Cauley-Stein said. “Otherwise it’s a whole different feel if it was five young dudes out there. Most of time it’s three old dudes and two young dudes, (or) a couple of young dudes and maybe some three-to-four-year dudes that’s playing. So it’s really frustrating, but it is what it is, so you’ve just got to keep pushing and learn from it.”
The Kings’ lack of focus at the beginning was evident with their turnovers. Sacramento committed five in the first quarter and 16 total, leading to 25 points for the Clippers (21-21).
“It’s just bad passes and bad ballhandling,” Joerger said. “It’s just individual work and guys just got to improve their individual skills.”
The Kings also need to improve their defense and not collectively drop their heads when a good player scores, like Williams (26 points) did Saturday.
The Clippers shot 56.1 percent.
“Sometimes when a team comes out and shoots the ball the way they were doing today, it’s kind of difficult to bring that energy,” Fox said. “Especially when we think we’re playing good defense and then Lou hits the off-balance shot, but that’s what he does.”