Being within a game or two of eighth place in the NBA’s Western Conference usually is a positive, but this isn’t a typical season.
Being in that position now highlights a team’s flaws, because it doesn’t appear a team will need to win 50 games to qualify for the postseason, or even the 45 the New Orleans Pelicans won to reach the playoffs last season.
That tantalizing eighth seed has been fool’s gold to the Kings, who can proclaim they’re just 2 1/2 games behind the Utah Jazz for the final spot.
Instead, the Kings should have a heightened sense of urgency because of their 12-20 record, especially since Utah has played with grit and defensive pride despite injuries.
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With the frustration of turnovers, and too many offensive players worried about shots and touches, our transition defense gets a little sticky.
Kings coach George Karl
The Kings have had injuries, too, but that doesn’t explain their frequent sluggish starts or occasional defense-is-optional approach. Nor does it explain their lack of focus against the Philadelphia 76ers and a home loss to the team with the NBA’s worst record.
Sometimes the Kings display an arrogance inconsistent with their record. It shouldn’t happen, but it’s easy to see why. They are within range of the playoffs this late in the season for the first time in years, and it’s easy to believe things will improve with 50 games to play.
But that mentality is their biggest impediment. No matter how close they are to the No. 8 spot, they’re still eight games below .500. And they’re allowing the most points in the league at 107.3 per game.
When you’re 12-20, you can never afford to be overconfident.
“We’ve got to respect the game by playing as a team, playing together as a team, being more focused mentally and physically,” coach George Karl said. “And I think most of that falls on the defensive end of the court. I think we know our holes. I think you all know our holes.”
One hole can’t be measured simply by statistics. Questions continue to persist about the Kings’ acceptance of and commitment to Karl’s system.
Center DeMarcus Cousins has shown his frustration. Though he has the green light to shoot, as do all five starters, he has looked uncomfortable. Forward Rudy Gay has been out of sorts and is dealing with mounting frustration.
In most games, Cousins and Gay must be the Kings’ top scorers to make any system successful.
107.3 League-high points allowed per game by the Kings
Karl said the Kings also have too many offensive players and not enough defensive ones. For an up-tempo team, they look as if they would rather not run at times, especially on defense.
“We’ve played 30 games, and all of a sudden it’s like a tug of war to get you to commit to running,” Karl said. “With the frustration of turnovers, and too many offensive players worried about shots and touches, our transition defense gets a little sticky.”
But the No. 8 spot remains tantalizing. The Kings are so close to it in the standings, yet so far from it in their approach. And things will stay that way unless they play as a team, as Karl said, and understand that just because they’re close doesn’t mean they’re good enough to make the playoffs.