It seemingly would be simple to understand. Whatever you do to gain a lead, continue to do it.
Eleven games into the season, the Kings still are struggling to master that concept. The latest example came Tuesday night, when they fell apart at both ends of the floor in the third quarter to squander a good first half in a 106-100 loss to the New Orleans Pelicans at Sleep Train Arena.
The Kings built a 12-point lead in the first half and led 54-45 at halftime, only to watch New Orleans have its way in the decisive third quarter.
Sacramento’s free-flowing offense vanished after halftime. The Kings had nine assists in the first quarter, their high for a period this season. They had 16 assists at halftime, also a season high.
But in the third quarter, the Kings’ bad habits on offense returned. They had trouble moving the ball and, at their worst, tried to score with as little passing or movement as possible.
“In the first half, we had 16 assists and only seven turnovers,” said Kings coach Michael Malone. “The ball moved, we executed, we looked for each other. In that third quarter I had no idea what we ran the whole quarter. It was random one-on-one, iso, pound the basketball, and that led to a lot of our turnovers.”
The Kings didn’t have an assist in the third quarter, when the Pelicans outscored them 31-15 to take control.
Sacramento’s defense also collapsed in the third quarter. Ryan Anderson (Oak Ridge High School) scored nine of his 22 points in the third, all on three-pointers. Former King Tyreke Evans, who didn’t score in the first half, had seven of his 18 points in the third.
Anthony Davis scored 10 of his game-high 28 points in the third. He’s the first opponent to score more 25 or more against the Kings this season.
Eric Gordon added 17 points, and Jrue Holiday had nine assists for New Orleans.
“We couldn’t guard their guards one-on-one, and our defense starts at the point of the ball, and we did a very poor job (Tuesday),” Malone said.
The Pelicans shot 12 for 22 in the third with one turnover. The Kings shot 6 for 21 with five turnovers that led to 10 points for the Pelicans.
New Orleans (6-4) took a 63-62 lead with 4:24 left in the third and never trailed again.
In their last three losses, the Kings (6-5) have held a double-digit lead.
“This is the NBA, teams make runs, and once they make those runs, we’ve got to stop the bleeding early or it can carry on for the rest of the game,” said Kings center DeMarcus Cousins. “We have a tendency to get relaxed, and teams keep chipping away and we give them life. In order for us to become the good team we want to be we can’t continue to do the same things.”
Cousins led the Kings with 24 points and 17 rebounds. Darren Collison had 13 points and a season-high 11 assists, but he sat a good portion of the fourth quarter in favor of Ray McCallum. Ramon Sessions, who has been the backup point guard, did not play.
Jason Thompson and Rudy Gay each had 15 points, and Omri Casspi added 13 points off the bench for the Kings.
Malone and Cousins pointed to the defense as the main culprit. The Pelicans shot 49.4 percent, while the Kings shot 44.2 percent.
New Orleans operated efficiently and at times without resistance, evidenced by only six turnovers for the Pelicans, a season low.
Follow The Bee’s Jason Jones on Twitter @mr_jasonjones and read more about the team at www.sacbee.com/kings.