For the Kings to become the team they want to be — a playoff team — night’s like Wednesday cannot happen.
The Kings were listless to start each half, trailed most of the night and lost to a Miami Heat team shorthanded due to injuries, 107-102, at Golden 1 Center.
The Heat have one of the NBA’s worst records at 11-26, but like any team coached by Erik Spoelstra, the Heat play hard regardless of who is on the court. As for the Kings, it’s always a guessing game as to whether they’ll come out with the intensity needed from the start.
Wednesday was one of those nights where the intensity was obviously lacking from the starting unit, a group comprised mostly of bench players rallied Sacramento back from 19 down in the third quarter, only to lose on a tough, off-balance shot by Tyler Johnson with 27.8 seconds to play.
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Both teams were playing the second of back-to-back games. Both teams had to travel to Sacramento late Tuesday night. But it was the Heat that looked like the team unaffected by any excuses, whether they be fatigue or multiple injuries.
“We came out and they were more aggressive and put up 64 points in the first half,” said Kings coach Dave Joerger. “That stuff can’t happen.”
The Kings used a 19-0 run to overcome an 87-68 deficit, eventually taking a 91-89 lead with 9:29 to play. The run was sparked by Ty Lawson, Arron Afflalo, Anthony Tolliver, Garrett Temple and Kosta Koufos.
Koufos was the only starter on the court as the Kings played with vigor against the scrappy Heat, who were without starters Hassan Whiteside and Justise Winslow.
But the Kings couldn’t maintain the momentum when that group was altered. DeMarcus Cousins and Matt Barnes replaced Koufos and Tolliver with 8:23 to play. Miami then outscored the Kings 10-4 to take a 99-95 lead. Darren Collison would replace Afflalo to try to stop the run, but Miami had already done enough to stop the Kings’ momentum.
The Kings would tie the game at 102 with 1:16 to play on a free throw by Cousins, but Johnson would put the Heat ahead for good with 27.8 seconds to play.
The Kings spent a lot of time complaining to the officials about a lack of foul calls with Joerger picking up a technical foul in the third quarter and Barnes being called for one in the fourth.
But the biggest enemy of the Kings were themselves. They allowed Miami to gain confidence early and that set the tone for a tough game.
“They had more energy than us,” Lawson said. “They were getting open shots, moving the ball. Everything they did on the offensive end was fast.”
Cousins, sitting with his head down and hood pulled over his head was visibly disappointed in the result. He said the reason for the slow starts is simple.
“Not aggressive defensively,” Cousins said.
When asked if the loss was the worst of the season Cousins said, “I would believe so.”
Cousins wasn’t using the excuse that with the Heat lineup so different that it made it hard to prepare for them.
“This was a winnable game,” Cousins said. “No excuses.”
Cousins was limited to 13 points on 4-for-15 shooting. Miami threw nearly every healthy body they had at Cousins to make it tough on him to score.
Temple, Afflalo and Lawson each had 15 points for the Kings (15-20). Tolliver added 14 points. The Kings had a season-high 61 bench points.
Johnson led Miami with 23 points. Goran Dragic had 19 points and seven assists.
Wednesday was the first time the Kings shot 50 percent or better and lost. The Kings had been 7-0 when shooting 50 percent or better. The Kings shot 51.3 percent.
Where Miami hurt the Kings was with a 39-26 rebounding advantage and making 12 3-pointers.