On one part of the box score, the Kings could be happy. They had a season-high 35 assists and seven players scored in double figures.
But defense continues to be what holds the Kings back. Such was the case again Saturday night at Toyota Center, where the Houston Rockets became the latest team to put up some of its best numbers in beating Sacramento 120-113.
Houston scored a season high in points and shot 53.1 percent in the second half. The Rockets also made 16 three-pointers, another season high.
The Kings fell behind by 15 points in the first quarter but made the game competitive. But late in the game, the Kings could not stop the Rockets.
“We got into a good rhythm,” said Kings guard Rajon Rondo. “But for the most part in the fourth quarter in the last five minutes, we weren’t solid defensively. Starting with myself. I had a bad backstab (steal attempt) in the backcourt and gave up a three, so we have to continue to push and be solid in the fourth quarter.”
The Kings were outscored 36-28 in the fourth quarter. The Kings led 103-101 with 5:05 to play before the Rockets closed the game out strong.
“They made a lot of free throws and they made their threes,” said Kings coach George Karl. “We had some defensive breakdowns, (James) Harden is a helluva player. It was just a frustrating game.”
The Rockets received big games from their biggest stars. Harden had a game-high 31 points to go with nine assists.
Center Dwight Howard added 22 points, 18 rebounds, two steals, two blocks and solid defense against DeMarcus Cousins.
Between foul trouble and poor shooting, Cousins’ last two games have been a struggle. After 4-for-17 shooting Thursday night in a loss to Boston, Cousins was off again against the Rockets.
He had 14 points on 4-for-16 shooting before fouling out with 2:14 to play. Cousins also had nine rebounds, three assists and two blocks.
It was Cousins’ third game back after missing three because of a lower-back strain.
“I think his jumper is a little rusty from being out a little bit,” Karl said. “And I think the foul trouble bothers him and the inconsistent type of rhythm that comes with (not) getting your normal routine, normal minutes. And he was playing against a (darn) good center. Howard’s a pretty special dude.”
Howard sat out the Rockets’ game Friday in Dallas, a decision made earlier in the week, to play against the Kings.
The easier choice would have been to miss the Kings and dealing with Cousins.
“I think (Howard) was challenged and he took the challenge,” said Rockets interim head coach J.B. Bickerstaff. “(Howard had) a key block down the stretch one-on-one.”
Cousins politely declined to speak to the media after the game.
The Kings’ confidence on defense has to be shaky with so many big games and season highs allowed.
Because even on a night when Cousins was not at his best, the team still scored 113 points.
“(It’s ) a few breakdowns defensively, most importantly,” said forward Omri Casspi. “I feel like we’re scoring at will. We’ve just got to lock down defensively.”
Rondo had 13 points and 19 assists. Darren Collison had 18 points off the bench.