Just when there are signs the Kings just might be inching their way toward respectability, something like Sunday night at Sleep Train Arena happens. But for this Kings team, which has shown it can lose in many fashions, it was almost predictable.
The Portland Trail Blazers, having played a night earlier, showed up without their star player Damian Lillard (plantar fasciitis), and when it mattered most, outworked the Kings for a 98-94 win.
The Kings often have an air about them of a team that’s much better than their 12-18 record. That’s evident with their penchant for trying to make highlight plays and seemingly overlooking other teams with losing records.
So the 13-20 Blazers were suited perfectly to beat the Kings.
The Kings gave up 14 points off turnovers in the first quarter and 28 points off 23 turnovers for the game. Kings coach George Karl said the Kings’ start was “crazy.”
“We were trying to throw Aaron Rodgers, in the window passes from 30 feet,” Karl said. “It’s not football, it’s basketball. You’re supposed to throw a pass that’s going to have a 95, maybe 98 percent chance of being completed. We’ve got to value possessions. I don’t think we’re a talented enough basketball team not to put more value on every possession that we play at both ends of the floor.”
Karl concluded his postgame news conference with: “I’m done, I’m frustrated.”
The Kings coaching staff remain frustrated with a team that can’t seem to bring the same level of focus and effort every night. The feeling remains whenever the Kings make progress, they suddenly feel they are a good team, even though their record and coach constantly remind them they don’t have the talent to not play with high energy and effort every night.
“We’ve got to get better with hustle and scramble, multiple efforts,” Karl said. “This is our court and we didn’t win the hustle game. I don’t think we got outworked but this is the court where we create the action.”
The Blazers created a lot of action Sunday.
Portland out rebounded the Kings 52-43, including 14 offensive rebounds that led to 18 second-chance points. The Blazers had 13 steals and their bench led by Meyers Leonard (16 points, 11 rebounds) imposed its will.
Then there was CJ McCollum, who had 35 points, 11 rebounds and nine assists as the latest guard to have a big game against the Kings.
DeMarcus Cousins had a game-high 36 points, but just six rebounds and five turnovers. Rajon Rondo had nine points and 15 assists but eight turnovers.
Cousins and Rondo had left the locker room before most of the media arrived for postgame interviews.
The game was tied at 80 after three quarters and then the Kings’ offense fell apart in the fourth as the team shot 3 for 22.
“No sense of urgency,” said forward Omri Casspi. “We let them hang around for three quarters, didn’t get up to our man and pressure them.”
Rudy Gay dismissed the notion of the Kings not respecting their opponent.
“It had nothing to do with that,” Gay said. “Respect your opponent? It’s the NBA. Everybody is capable of winning a game.”
Added Gay: “We lost a game we thought we should have won. It happens I guess.”
But the Kings do have a knack for looking like a team that’s accomplished something when the reality is they still are not a playoff-caliber team.
Had the Kings won, they would have moved into the eighth spot in the Western Conference, the final playoff spot at season’s end.
“We’ve got to start games hungrier,” Casspi said. “We’re right there for the eighth seed and we’re playing games like we’re already in there.”
Casspi touched on the mentality the Kings need to have if they are to become a playoff team.
“Even the good teams, and I don’t think we’re good yet, the really good teams don’t take nights off,” Casspi said. “In a game like this we’ve got to hit them first, in our house. It’s a tough one, really.”
The Kings cannot continue to lose to teams with worse records if the want to make the playoffs. The lack of consistency could cost them later in the season.
“It’s a game we should have won and we’re going to feel sorry for ourselves when the time comes,” Casspi said.
Gay had already moved on to the next game. The Kings play at 28-1 Golden State Monday night.
“We win that one this one won’t even matter,” Gay said.