There might not be a nicer bunch of players in the NBA than the Kings. That’s the problem.
While generous, those good looks at the rim, dunks and wide-open shots they are offering opponents will not earn them any victories.
The Utah Jazz appreciated the Kings’ kindness on their way to a 120-105 win Wednesday night at Golden 1 Center. The Kings will now ride a six-game losing streak on their way out of town for a season-long six-game trip. Sacramento (13-31) has lost nine of its last 10 games.
“I just told them we need to play with more life, we need to play with more athleticism and we need to play with a lot more nasty,” said Kings coach Dave Joerger. “We got a really nice bunch of guys and they work really hard, but we’ve got to try to find some of those other degrees in there.”
Utah rookie Donovan Mitchell hammered that point home Wednesday with some nasty of his own.
Mitchell treated the Kings to a display in how to attack the rim, finishing with a game-high 34 points on 14-of-19 shooting, including a dastardly dunk in the third quarter.
He drove between an attempted double team by Buddy Hield and Kosta Koufos and rumbled through the lane for a right-handed jam as Zach Randolph and De’Aaron Fox looked on, and the Jazz took a 73-54 lead.
Kings center Willie Cauley-Stein did not enjoy watching the Utah bench celebrate.
“It’s demoralizing when you see it, especially when you’re on the bench,” he said. “You see that and it’s just like ... somebody needs to take him out, plain and simple. You’ve got to load up and wrap him up, plain and simple. That’s what got to happen.”
But can the Kings simply become a group of tough guys? Changing their collective mindset over halfway through the season seems unrealistic.
“You’ve just got to want to play that way,” said Cauley-Stein. “I think you just have to drill it in your head where it becomes second nature, especially since we’re a bunch of nice guys. You have try to get in the out-of-body experience, being a little rougher, being a little nastier. We just let people come in the lane and stuff.”
It’s something the Kings have done all season. And it’s not the first time Joerger has referred to the Kings as “nice” and called for them to play with more grit.
“I think (Joerger is) looking for hard fouls,” Cauley-Stein said. “They’re getting fouls anyways, so make sure they don’t get the ball up, stuff like that.”
The Kings need to improve their communication on defense, which breaks down and allows players like Mitchell to have their way.
Bogdan Bogdanovic said the Kings have to be willing to be play more roughly and make better decisions on defense.
“He’s a really great player and we’ve got to give credit to him as well,” the Kings guard said of Mitchell. “But he didn’t beat us one-on-one, easy. They beat us on some stupid plays, stupid defensive plays by us. … They read the game, he read the game really well, that’s why he was in the paint so many times.”
When Mitchell wasn’t scoring, Rodney Hood was giving the Kings fits. He had 25 points and eight rebounds off the bench for Utah (18-26).
Cauley-Stein led the Kings with 26 points and 10 rebounds. Bogdanovic had a career-high 25 points on 9-of-11 shooting. Bogdanovic made all six of his 3-point attempts. George Hill added 20 points and a team-high five assists.
The Kings will have to figure out how to be tougher while on the road, starting in Memphis on Friday.
“We’re looking to ... play more athletic,” Joerger said. “With more life, with more energy, with more pop and more bounce. There may be times that a 6-3 guy is closing out on a 6-8 guy. That is what it is, but you’re going to have to do it with an energy and a physicality and then you’re going to have to do it together.”