With 15 games left in the season, you won’t find any Kings player or coach using the “tank” to describe the rest of the season.
No one in the locker room is trying to lose games, but there is a realization that what happens over the rest of the season will probably have a lot more to do with how the Kings perform next season.
Coach Dave Joerger rested three veterans in Monday’s win over Orlando and figures to do more of that to give players who might not see the court normally a chance to showcase themselves. It also gives Joerger a chance to look at new combinations on the court while also trying to instill how things will work next season.
“You try to cement some things,” Joerger said. “I think we’ve always played hard, I think we were just sometimes wondering (earlier in the season). Also after you get into a season 50 some games it’s a lot easier, you know each other, you know your teammates, you know your coaches. It’s the first time we’ve been together.”
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As Joerger notes the Kings “changed” after the 50-game mark. With 25 games left in the season, All-Star DeMarcus Cousins and forward Omri Casspi were traded to the New Orleans Pelicans for Buddy Hield, Tyreke Evans, Langston Galloway and two draft picks. Matt Barnes was also waived.
That meant a change in the style of play and direction of a team that was 1 1/2 games out of the eighth spot in the Western Conference at the time of the trade. Heading into Wednesday’s game against the Suns in Phoenix, the Kings have gone 2-8 since the trade and are six games behind Denver for the final playoff spot in the West.
Without Cousins leading the Kings in scoring, rebounding and assists, young players like Willie Cauley-Stein and Skal Labissiere are learning how to hold down the middle for the Kings, especially when Kosta Koufos has a night off such as Monday.
“I think (young players are) understanding the best teams don’t have to have a superstar that averages 35 a game,” said guard Garrett Temple. “Frankly, as a team, it feels better. It’s better for everyone involved when everyone touches the ball, where everyone can help each other scorer.
“I think on offense we’ve done a good job of creating that culture the last week and a half. We just have to help the defense catch up so we can help each other defend.”
Temple said the Kings’ performance Monday was a good model for the younger players. Seven players scored in double figures and seven players had an assist.
The Kings no longer want to be a team that relies on one or two players to supply most of the points, which was the case with Cousins and Rudy Gay. Not that Sacramento has much of a choice. When a team lacks a dominant star, it must rely on a more team-oriented approach to make things work.
“Then we build that culture of a team, a group effort on both ends,” Temple said. “Then whoever comes in, whether it’s a young player or veteran, they’ll know this is the way this team plays.”
Joerger has raved about the chemistry among the players all season. That hasn’t changed since the trade. It’s something he wants to see continue throughout the season and into next season.
“We’ve got good guys, they like each other and they’re going through and the main thing is we take it one game at a time,” Joerger said. “And if we do that 15 nights in a row we’ll be in the playoffs.”
That statement made media members chuckle and even Joerger cracked a smile.
“It’s a good group, they get along and they go play hard,” he continued. “That’s the kind of the identity we’re hoping to have going forward. Whoever plays, this is how we do it here, we’ve got great fans and a wonderful arena and we go out and we play really hard.”