The Kings will learn a lot about themselves through adversity this season.
Monday night’s lesson at Philips Arena was how to generate offense with DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay on the bench because of foul trouble.
For a few minutes, the Kings worked it out. But the fouls and turnovers piled up, as did the Atlanta Hawks’ second-chance points. That proved to be too much for Sacramento to overcome in a 106-95 loss to begin a five-game trip.
Gay led the Kings with 22 points. Cousins had 14 points and 12 rebounds for his 246th double-double, surpassing Chris Webber for the most in the franchise’s Sacramento history.
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At the season’s outset, the Kings’ goal is to develop an identity. They want to be the aggressors, play stingy defense and wear down teams with constant effort.
But it’s hard to wear down an opponent when you start slowly, then sit your two leading scorers because they have five fouls each.
If coach Dave Joerger can’t have both Cousins and Gay on the court, he wants at least one of them in the lineup. In the third quarter, Gay had seven points and Cousins six as the Kings outscored the Hawks 37-26. But each picked up his fifth foul in the period and took a seat.
Still, the Kings led 81-79 entering the fourth.
“It’s something we’re working through,” Joerger said. “ ... When both of them were out, we ran some good stuff for about five, six minutes there. We got some cutting, and we got some action. We had some juice and we had some life to us, which we didn’t have in the first half.”
Joerger complimented Matt Barnes, who scored eight points in the third quarter, and Garrett Temple for their play during that stretch. But the Kings got away from who they want to be.
“Those are positive things to give yourself an identity with the group,” Joerger said. “Where it ran back away from us was we fell in love with the jump shot and stopped getting in the paint. Then they were able to run out on us.”
The fourth quarter went awry as the Kings (2-2) managed only 14 points, a point fewer than their lackluster showing in the first quarter.
“Even as bad as things went tonight – we didn’t play nearly as good as we’re capable of – we still had a great chance of winning this game,” Cousins said. “We just have to correct those mistakes. We can’t come out sluggish like we did (Monday).”
The Kings also cannot afford to give up 24 points off 19 turnovers and commit 34 fouls. It’s not unusual for a team to foul more than normal against Dwight Howard, a career 56.8 percent free-throw shooter. Howard shot 20 of Atlanta’s 47 free throws, making 8. But Howard attempted more free throws than the Kings (19).
The Kings also were done in by Atlanta’s 17 offensive rebounds. That helped the Hawks (3-0) to a 17-7 advantage in second-chance points.
“Our bench played well. They did what they’re supposed to do,” Gay said. “No matter what, we can’t get ourselves in that situation. We’ve got to be out there for the team.”