The Kings earned all the scorn they received on Nov. 15 – and then some.
Losing at Atlanta wasn’t the embarrassing part. It was being shellacked by 46 points and the listless effort from the Kings that made the squad worthy of disparagement.
The 126-80 defeat dropped the Kings to 1-8 on the road and put them on course to the bottom of the Western Conference by Christmas, considering 10 of their next 18 games would be away from Golden 1 Center.
The Kings now are 6-13 on the road. That’s not reason to throw a parade, but it’s worthy of acknowledgment. They have shown more mettle on the road, and even when the result isn’t a win, nothing has been as low as that night in Atlanta.
Before that debacle, Sacramento rarely played competitively away from home, so two or three road wins by the end of December seemed overly optimistic.
The Kings had a minus-17.7 point differential in road games to that point and had just concluded a three-game trip in which every game was a lopsided loss. The Kings were averaging 90.9 points on the road.
After Atlanta, the Kings went 5-5 on the road, averaging 101.6 points with a point differential of minus-3.8 and wins at Golden State and New Orleans.
Roles have been clarified through tough decisions about playing time and rotations, including sending young players to the G League.
Zach Randolph has carried the crew and George Hill has played better. Frank Mason III is a part of the rotation and Buddy Hield has found his shooting touch again. The Kings started shooting and playing better for longer stretches.
“Confidence,” Randolph said. “A lot these young guys is playing great, from Frank, to Willie (Cauley-Stein), to Buddy, to Bogi (Bogdan Bogdanovic), these guys are stepping up and it’s big time. These guys have put the work in.”
It’s also a credit to a patient coaching staff. It’s hard to get a youth-heavy team headed in the right direction away from home. The Kings need practice time, which is not always available on the road, so the coaching staff has been doing all it can to squeeze in extra court time and film study during trips.
“Guys are starting to get into a little bit of a rhythm with the group they’re going to play with,” said Kings coach Dave Joerger. “You get through the league a little bit, you see some things, how guys are going to play you. You now have been scouted. Now you have to make the adjustments of how you handle that and what they’re trying to take away from you. That’s when competition is fun.”
It’s also fun being competitive. The mood around the Kings has improved on the road, win or lose. They’ve been absolved of that somber feeling from hitting rock bottom in Atlanta.
Now the Kings need to take the lessons learned through playing nearly half of their road schedule and work to keep their home record (5-7) respectable.
“It’s bad at first but honestly I’d rather get this s--- knocked out the way in the beginning and stay on the West Coast the rest of the year,” Cauley-Stein said. “Stay close to the family, our fans, and just hoop.”
The Kings won games on back-to-back nights for the first time this season with wins at Philadelphia and Brooklyn. The Kings had been 0-5 in the second of back-to-back games. Now they’ll go for their first three-game winning streak when San Antonio visits Golden 1 Center on Saturday.
Trips to the Eastern time zone will be rare the rest of the season. The Kings only have three road games left against the Eastern Conference: at Miami, Orlando and Charlotte.
The Kings are off for Christmas, but will host one-half of the NBA’s showcase from the day when the Cleveland Cavaliers visit Sacramento on Wednesday.
The Kings lost a competitive game at Cleveland, 101-95, Dec. 6 at Quicken Loans Arena.