The start to the Kings’ seven-game homestand looked like a chance to build momentum entering Sunday’s game against the Golden State Warriors at Golden 1 Center.
But the Kings fell behind by 19 points against the injury-depleted Miami Heat and lost 107-102.
Next up for the Kings are the Los Angeles Clippers – without injured All-Stars Chris Paul and Blake Griffin – on Friday night.
But if the Kings learned anything in Wednesday’s loss, it’s that they must focus on their lack of early intensity rather than their opponent’s lineup. That has hurt Sacramento more than once this season.
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It appeared the Kings weren’t ready to play the Heat, who were missing players such as Hassan Whiteside. Sacramento made overcoming the early deficit especially hard as players spent nearly as much energy griping with officials.
When asked if the Kings took the Heat lightly, Kings forward Anthony Tolliver said, “You could say that, I guess. If you get down by 19 to anybody, either they’re extremely better than you or you didn’t execute what you’re supposed to do. I think ours was the latter. I think we just didn’t come out and execute things like we’re supposed to and definitely let the referees affect some of our decisions.”
The Clippers at full strength are NBA title contenders. That’s not the case when Raymond Felton and Austin Rivers start for Paul and Griffin.
The Kings are not good enough to overlook any team. Rivers, usually a reserve, scored 28 points in a 115-106 win over Memphis on Wednesday night.
And Rivers has played well against the Kings, including a 23-point effort in a win at Golden 1 Center in November.
When asked if it is difficult to prepare to play a squad not at full strength, Kings coach Dave Joerger said: “It’s not if you’re a professional. You just come out and do your job. Regardless of who’s playing, we needed to win (Wednesday) like we do every night. So it shouldn’t change your approach and your mindset.”
Sacramento is eighth in the Western Conference and talk about making the playoffs for the first time since 2006. Another lackluster performance – in which they trail big early and then hope to rally – against the Clippers wouldn’t help.
The Kings have overcome deficits to win this season by relying on the bench and DeMarcus Cousins, especially with Rudy Gay nursing a strained right hip flexor.
Gay has played in just one game since sustaining the injury Dec. 12 against the Los Angeles Lakers.
Cousins had one of his worst games of the season against Miami, making just 4 of 15 shots. That, along with falling behind by 19, was too much to overcome.
“We just weren’t ready,” said guard Ty Lawson. “ When we did (match the Heat’s intensity), we played well.”
If the Kings lack intensity against the Clippers, they could be in a familiar situation – a losing one.