The Kings won five games in a row early in the season and were a confident bunch.
Now they are on a four-game losing streak. Injuries and illness have been as much a problem as the opposition on the floor. Up next on the schedule are four teams with losing records.
A prescription for improvement? Maybe not.
The Kings are 9-9, which might be a solid record considering the low expectations from outsiders and an early slate heavy on road games, but they are not in position to look at the Indiana Pacers as slumpbusters.
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“We’re not playing well regardless of who we’re playing, regardless of who’s playing for us,” said Kings coach Michael Malone. “The way we started the game against Toronto (on Tuesday), the way we came out to start the second half is just unacceptable. That is my concern, right now our guys think we’re not playing Houston, Memphis, San Antonio or Toronto, all teams that have won the majority of their games and now we’ve got Indiana and, oh, we can just show up and beat them. We can’t.”
The losing streak has come against some of the NBA’s best teams, but the Kings did their part to contribute. They put themselves in early deficits, played spotty defense and have been sloppy with the ball and turnover-prone.
Those attributes will lead to losses against any team, even a team like Indiana, which has been hit hard by injuries.
The Kings haven’t been healthy lately and will be without star center DeMarcus Cousins for the fourth consecutive game because of a viral infection.
Malone isn’t using Cousins’ absence as an excuse for the Kings recent struggles. Malone realizes the current four-game slide doesn’t mean the Kings are in a free fall, but he’s trying to stop the losing before it gets to that point.
“No panic at all, but I want to see a much greater sense of urgency,” Malone said. “Regardless of who you play, if you’ve lost four in a row, you should do whatever it takes, by any means necessary, to get a win, and I don’t see that right now.”
What does Malone see?
“I see guys (with the mindset of) ‘when’s DeMarcus coming back?’ And (when he does) ‘we’ll be OK,’ ” Malone said. “No, that’s not how it works.”
In theory, the players know that. If the Kings don’t figure out how to put together some wins soon, their 5-1 start will be a footnote to the season.
Nor can the Kings assume they have an advantage over a team simply based on standings.
“We do need a little more pep in our step,” said forward Jason Thompson. “... We can’t look to the level of competition or the record. There are some good teams that are having losing streaks like ourselves. We know we’re a good team. We can’t look at the level or the record.”
The Kings also have to realize they aren’t at a level where teams aren’t viewing them as a winnable game. The Pacers play at Portland on Thursday night, so the Pacers might see the Kings as the game to win should they lose to the Blazers.
So Malone wants to see the Kings come out with more fight, unlike the “unacceptable” start against the Raptors.
“We have to participate in our own recovery,” Malone said. “No one else is going to give it to us.”
Malone was disappointed there wasn’t more fire during Thursday’s practice, but perhaps it will show up against the Pacers.
A win against Indiana would not only end the losing streak, it would give the Kings a good feeling heading into Saturday night’s game against Orlando.
“I don’t want us to panic at all, but I do want us to play with a much greater sense of urgency and almost a desperation because I’m just tired of losing,” Malone said. “Losing is the worst, and if you’re OK with losing four in a row, then this is not the place for you.”