As they reach the season’s midpoint, the Kings have managed to retain an element of mystery.
Just 1-5 on their current homestand, the Kings are 16-24 overall and have evident shortcomings. Their defense, a focus under first-year coach Dave Joerger, ranks in the bottom five in the league in defensive efficiency, or points (108.4) allowed per 100 possessions. They have trailed by at least 10 points in all but 12 of their games, and their penchant for starting games slowly has undermined spurts of good play later on.
Yet entering Tuesday, the Kings were only a half-game out of eighth place in the Western Conference – behind the Portland Trail Blazers and Denver Nuggets – and still in position to challenge for a playoff seed in the second half.
Some clarity could arrive in the next two weeks. After hosting the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday night, the Kings embark on a brutal trip of eight games in 12 nights starting Friday against the Memphis Grizzlies. First, they have a chance to salvage the finale of their longest homestand this season and generate some momentum if they can beat the Indiana Pacers on Wednesday.
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We’ve got to worry about the other team. I think we worry about the refs too much. We lack execution on both ends.
Matt Barnes, Kings forward
“You try not to … make it bigger than it is,” Joerger said. “We’ve been playing hard, but we’ve got to come out and play with urgency – especially defensively – in the first quarter and get more stops. Set the tone for the game that things aren’t going to be easy and guys can’t get into a rhythm from the other team.
“Everybody’s spirits are good and we’re playing hard and getting along. It’s kind of the dog days of the season, so you just try to worry about what’s in front of you right now.”
The Kings’ loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder on Sunday typified what has become a puzzling trend. Sacramento was outscored 28-23 in the first quarter and 31-23 in the second, and a furious run toward the finish fell short in a 122-118 loss. The Kings also trailed by 17 after the first quarter against the Cleveland Cavaliers on Friday, and their only win on this homestand came in a comeback from 18 points down against the Detroit Pistons.
Players have pointed to a lackadaisical attitude or lack of focus at the start of games, but the trend persists. The Kings have been outscored by an average of 2.2 points in the first quarter (fourth-worst in the NBA), according to teamrankings.com, and 2.7 points in the second quarter (worst). But they are outscoring opponents by 1.6 and 1.1 points in the third and fourth quarters, respectively.
Compounding the problem in the past two games is that the Kings have committed 29 of their 43 turnovers in the first half. Frustrations bubbled Sunday as the Kings were called for two late technical fouls, one each on DeMarcus Cousins and Matt Barnes. Afterward, Barnes told reporters the Kings “complain too much about the refs.”
We’ve been playing hard, but we’ve got to come out and play with urgency – especially defensively – in the first quarter and get more stops.
Dave Joerger, Kings coach
“We’ve got to worry about the other team,” Barnes said. “I think we worry about the refs too much. We lack execution on both ends.”
Joerger on Monday said player discipline is “more of a personal deal.”
“Each guy’s just gotta own their own and try to play,” Joerger said. “That’s why I haven’t been jumping up and down and being on the referees the whole game and getting a bunch of technicals. That’s what I can own, and I encourage our guys to just keep their composure and play for the next play.”
Casspi out two weeks – The Kings likely will be without forward Omri Casspi for most of their eight-game trip.
Casspi suffered a right calf injury during practice Monday and is expected to miss one to two weeks, the team said. An MRI on Monday night showed a strained plantaris tendon.
This has been a trying season for Casspi, whose role has diminished under Joerger. He had appeared in just six of the last 15 games and is averaging 5.9 points and 4.1 rebounds.