Why the Kings often start games slowly is still anyone’s guess.
“I wish I had the answer to it,” center DeMarcus Cousins said.
Basketball is a game of runs, and the Kings seem to give up a lot of those runs at the beginning of games. Lately, those runs have put the Kings far behind, forcing them to play catch-up most of the game.
In Sunday’s loss to the Utah Jazz, the Kings trailed by 20 points in the first quarter. In Friday’s loss to the Orlando Magic, the Kings were behind 16-4 before many fans were in their seats.
Because of the sputtering starts, the Kings’ mindset as the season winds down has come into question. For some teams out of playoff contention, players’ thoughts begin to drift toward the offseason, and the diminished focus shows in their play.
To say guys aren’t playing hard, playing with heart, I can’t agree with that. To say we play with a lot of frustration, I would say that on a nightly basis.
Cousins said he’s still engaged mentally and will continue to fight for his teammates. But he didn’t pretend to know if all his teammates shared his attitude.
“It’s hard to answer that,” Cousins said. “I don’t know.”
But Cousins said the Kings have not quit with 17 games left and still are showing “heart” and “energy.”
Are the Kings worn down mentally? Yes. Has the season been a disappointment? Absolutely. But the Kings still are playing hard, Cousins said.
3-9 Kings’ record since the All-Star break
“I really hate that term, that saying, play with energy and heart,” Cousins said. “I feel like everybody in this locker room comes out with heart. We just have a lot of stints where things aren’t really going our way so frustration comes into play. To say guys aren’t playing hard, playing with heart, I can’t agree with that. To say we play with a lot of frustration, I would say that on a nightly basis.”
Frustration abounds on the Kings. Coaches want the players to execute the game plans better and display fervor from the opening tip, not just when they rally from 20 points down. Players want to believe the game plan gives them the best chance to win, but they’ve been unhappy with the defensive schemes all season. Likewise, coaches have been upset over players leaving known three-point shooters open from beyond the arc.
The only constants for nearly two months have been bad defense and losing. Sacramento has lost five consecutive games, nine of 10 and 17 of the last 22 as the season has spiraled downward since January’s five-game winning streak.
When it appeared coach George Karl’s firing was imminent before the All-Star break, a meeting with general manager Vlade Divac temporarily restored order. Karl said he would address Sacramento’s defensive shortcomings, and Divac would continue to explore ways to bolster the roster.
The roster is the same, and the problems grow.
Since the All-Star break, the Kings are 3-9 and giving up 111.3 points per game, fourth most in the NBA. Opponents are shooting 47.9 percent, tied for the fifth highest allowed since the break.
On Tuesday night, the Kings face the Los Angeles Lakers, owners of the Western Conference’s worst record, at Staples Center. And it might not take long to see how the frustration is wearing on the Kings.