There were going to be nights like this. George Karl knew this when he took over as Kings coach seven games ago.
“When I took the job, I knew it was going to be 60 days of hell, 60 days of excitement, 60 days of enthusiasm, 60 days of up-and-down NBA win-lose basketball,” Karl said.
This was certainly on the down end. A night after a lopsided win at New York, the Kings were on the wrong side of a 40-point deficit in losing 112-85 to the San Antonio Spurs on Wednesday at AT&T Center.
The 40-point gap was the biggest of the season, as was the final deficit of 27.
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The Spurs happen to be one of the NBA’s better teams and are looking to repeat as NBA champions.
The Kings have more modest goals as they face another season that will end with the team’s focus being on the NBA draft in the offseason. They’d like to surpass last season’s win total and show their strong start to the season is something they can duplicate and hopefully carry into next season.
The loss was a reminder of many of the problem areas the Kings need to fix this season and beyond. There were turnovers (18), a low shooting percentage (37.2 percent), some questionable shots and only 15 assists.
Karl said he “didn’t get much done” in helping the Kings.
“It seems like the personality in our losses is when our offense breaks down, I don’t think we’re trying to be selfish, but I think sometimes we take tough shots rather than making the pass,” Karl said.
The loss drops the Kings to 21-38, but Karl wants the team to still play for something, even if it’s not a spot in the playoffs.
The Kings have not won more than 28 games since Reggie Theus coached the team to a 38-44 mark in the 2007-08 campaign before being fired the next season.
“I told them if I had to give them a goal it would be to win more games than we won last year,” Karl said. “That would at least give me a mentality that we salvaged the season in a positive way and your momentum is pushing forward toward next year.”
The Kings are 3-4 under Karl. An 8-15 finish would surpass last season’s 28-54 mark by a game.
The King would like to do better than that. Before Karl was hired and settled the talk of who would coach the team, winning 28 games seemed unthinkable.
The Kings were 7-21 in the 28 games before Karl took over. Even with the loss to the Spurs, the recent seven games marks Sacramento’s best stretch of play since November and December when Michael Malone was their coach.
“Like coach (Karl) said, we want to, first off, win more games,” said Kings guard Ben McLemore. “That’s something we want to do as a team, and we have to continue to get better and find ways to win games. We need to keep our head up and stay focused on what we’re trying to accomplish and just finish this season off strong.”
Karl was brought in to give the Kings stability on the sideline. He concedes improvement alone isn’t always enough for observers, especially during a losing season.
But the Kings’ losing season has been one unlike most.
Karl is the third coach this season. The front office is evolving, too. Vlade Divac, the new vice president of basketball and franchise operations, attended the game as he looks to assess the pulse of the team.
Karl is doing his part on the court. He believes topping last season’s wins will help players not view this season as a waste.
It also can put the team in the mindframe to compete hard every night, something that wasn’t happening before he was hired, as players went through the motions under Tyrone Corbin, who had replaced Malone in mid-December.
“My hope is to take this basketball nightmare away from the players to where they leave the season April 15 with the confidence and energy that we can build on in the summertime,” Karl said. “Part of that is winning.”
There just might be more nights like Wednesday in San Antonio before the winning becomes consistent.