The Kings have the traits of an underdog most nights.
They’re going to lack experience, size or talent against a team with stars or one poised to make a playoff push.
So the one thing the Kings can’t do is come out without the internal spark to compete. If not, the result will be a lot like their 96-79 loss to the Denver Nuggets on Saturday night at Pepsi Center.
The Kings want emphasize playing fast, but coach Dave Joerger said he thought his team was “slow” against the Nuggets.
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
Garrett Temple said “passive.”
De’Aaron Fox, who led the Kings with 18 points, said “they punched us in the mouth first.”
All things underdogs cannot allow to happen if they hope to win. It’s an early reminder in a season that promises to have plenty of reminders of what the Kings need to do to achieve success in the future.
“I thought they pushed us around with their physicality,” Joerger said. “We were undersized at just about every position. We have to hit first. We have to have that mindset. We have to cut hard and create plays and help teammates score.
“Our guys have great hearts and they are trying to do the right thing. It’s a good learning tool.”
Denver outrebounded Sacramento 58-39, which might have been the biggest indicator the Kings weren’t energetic enough. The Nuggets (1-1) grabbed 18 offensive rebounds.
“That’s definitely an energy stat,” Temple said. “And then when you’re not scoring, when not making shots it just compounds that. So one thing we can do is provide energy, rebound and defend from the get-go.”
The Nuggets also shot more free throws (20-13) and had a 19-10 edge in second-chance points.
Those are all areas that can be swayed with aggression, something the Kings didn’t have in the second night of back-to-back games.
The Kings’ roster is already one that’s going to have problems scoring, so settling for jump shots and lacking the energy to make up for missed shots will more often than not result in nights like Saturday.
The Kings do not have enough players attacking the rim on offense, instead settling for jumpers. Teams that struggle to score need free throws, which the Kings cannot get shooting from the perimeter.
Meanwhile, Nuggets like Paul Millsap (18 points, nine rebounds), Kenneth Faried (18 points, eight rebounds) and Gary Harris (17 points) looked like the aggressors most of the night.
It’s also telling that Denver won with center Nikola Jokic going scoreless, but he still had nine rebounds and seven assists.
“It’s passiveness … just in general,” Temple said. “The one thing De’Aaron did when he came in was he was aggressive to the rack and we need him to do that. But everybody needs to do that, we can’t settle for jumpers. If you have an open shot, take it, but we have to focus, especially when we’re not making shots, to try to get to the (free throw) line and try to penetrate.”
Temple said it’s up to the veterans to make sure young players realize that on a night like Denver – a back-to-back and in the altitude – Joerger might go deeper into his rotations, so everyone needs to be ready.
They have to set the standard and Temple said he would put more on himself to make sure the second unit has the energy needed to spark the team when the starters struggle.
“It shows,” Temple said. “Guys were a little nonchalant in warmups … We have a lot of young guys who have never played a back-to-back, let alone one in Denver. So it was an eye-opener.”