DeMarcus Cousins sat in a corner of the visitors’ locker room at the Palace of Auburn Hills on Sunday night, still in his uniform while the rest of his teammates prepared for the flight home.
The drama of the last three weeks might as well have been in his lap.
The Kings had just been run off the court by the Detroit Pistons, 114-95, in another display of poor defense, poor body language and low morale since coach Michael Malone was fired Dec. 14.
A team that was once 9-5 is now 14-20, including 3-7 since Tyrone Corbin replaced Malone.
Never miss a local story.
“We’re not the team we were,” Cousins said.
Asked if Malone’s dismissal affected the Kings more than anticipated, Cousins said: “It’s clear. We’re not the same team. We talk about it, make excuses for the team, but at the end of the day, we’re the ones out there playing. Regardless of who the man is on the bench, we’re the ones out there playing.”
The Kings ended their four-game trip 1-3, the win coming against Minnesota, which has the worst record (5-27) in the Western Conference. But even that victory was a struggle, and the Kings are trying to figure out how to play with the intensity they showed more times than not in the first 24 games.
“Start at square one,” forward Rudy Gay said. “Whatever that is, we have to find it. Go back to the basics, become that hungry team we were before. Same principles, same values and find that, however we find it.”
With the Kings in a funk, teams are taking advantage. The Pistons shot 49.5 percent, and Brandon Jennings torched the defense for a season-high 35 points, the most by a Kings opponent in regulation.
Detroit (10-23) has won five in a row, all since waiving forward Josh Smith, a player the Kings coveted for months via trade. Shedding Smith has given the Pistons an energy and enthusiasm the Kings lack.
“We can’t feel sorry for ourselves,” Gay said. “Obviously, nobody else is. You really can’t pinpoint it, but there’s a lot of different things that you can say are wrong.”
The Kings’ mood continues to sour with each loss. Players have questioned why the front office fired Malone and asked Corbin to implement a new style of play that is uncomfortable for many of them.
Guard Darren Collison said there is no time to worry about team morale.
“I don’t think it matters,” Collison said. “Games are going to keep coming. Teams are going to keep coming. Obviously, it’s not good because we haven’t been winning, but they’re going to keep coming.”
Meanwhile, the Kings need to figure out how to get out of their own way. They shot just 42.7 percent and had 16 turnovers that Detroit converted into 23 points. Cousins (18 points, 15 rebounds) made only 5 of 17 shots. Gay (12 points) sank only 5 of 16.
Defensively, the Kings have struggled for the past three weeks. Sunday, Sacramento allowed 90 points over the last three quarters.
“We’ve got to stop feeling sorry for ourselves,” Cousins said. “Every time something doesn’t go our way, we’re shaking our heads, myself included. We’ve got to man up. It’s on us. Period. It’s on us.”
Corbin said the players have been affected by all the activity surrounding the team in recent weeks and the emphasis on a faster offense. He said the Kings must return to defending at a higher level.
“We’ve got to make sure we focus on it,” Corbin said. “We’ve got to give more effort, we’ve got to pay attention to detail and, in communication, we’ve got to be better. We’re not clicking on the defensive end. Where we want to pick up the pace on the offensive end, we can’t allow teams to score 90 points in three quarters against us.”