The Kings have entered the part of the season that’s perhaps the toughest for a team in their predicament.
The All-Star break has passed, the playoffs are out of reach and the challenge for coach Dave Joerger is to keep his team more focused on the rest of the season than April vacation plans.
Joerger had his work cut out for him from the start Thursday against the Oklahoma City Thunder at Golden 1 Center. The Kings gave up 44 points in the first quarter, the most points they have allowed in a quarter this season, and trailed 44-21.
The Kings, however, found some fight, only to have Russell Westbrook hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer to beat the Kings 110-107.
Justin Jackson’s putback had tied it at 107-107 with a second to play.
Westbrook, Paul George, Carmelo Anthony and Steven Adams were having their way against the Kings as the Thunder (34-26) they fight for playoff position.
The Kings trailed 44-21 after the first quarter, but then they started fighting back.
“Really proud of our guys,” Joerger said. “Went toe-to-toe with one of the premier teams in the league with four guys who I consider to be All-Stars at one point or another in their career.”
Kings forward Vince Carter said there’s no moral victory in coming up short, but he did like to see the resolve the Kings showed.
For that reason, Carter said Thursday was a good experience.
“It’s a process for us and these guys are young,” Carter said. “They still haven’t seen every scenario that’s possible and it takes a long time to do that. But at the same time, just to show our resolve, to show everybody just to trust in what we’ve been preaching since the beginning, share the ball. I think when you see things working and have some success you tend to believe in it and I think we started to believe in moving the ball, being patient.”
The Kings led 90-85 after three quarters, but instead of building their lead in the fourth, they allowed the Thunder to remain close enough to set up Westbrook’s heroics.
“Made some mistakes at the end, didn’t finish – we had two chances around the rim with dunks where we could’ve put the game up to five or six,” Joerger said. “Passed one up, got another one blocked.”
Carter said it’s important that the Kings (18-40) build on the final three quarters of Thursday’s game and avoid repeating their dismal first quarter.
“It helps going through,” Carter said. “It’s in your mind and it’s something you can store in your memory bank and it’s something you can remember, OKC, we were down 20 in the first quarter and blah, blah, blah, you go from there. You have something to show, you have something on film. I’m just excited to see guys stay cool, calm and collected.”
Westbrook finished with 17 points, 15 rebounds and 12 assists for the Thunder. Paul George had 26 points, eight rebounds and eight assists, and Carmelo Anthony scored 23 points.
Zach Randolph led the Kings (18-40) with 29 points and 12 rebounds.