Skal Labissiere had a season-high 23 points and Buddy Hield had his best scoring night in almost a month.
Still, there was a reason neither was patting themselves on the back.
Good games from young players could be hailed as progress for the Kings, a team more focused on development than victories, but it’s hard to enjoy progress as losses pile up.
Sacramento continues to plummet in the standings after suffering a season-high eighth consecutive loss. This time it was to the Charlotte Hornets, 112-107 on Monday night at Spectrum Center.
Digital Access for only $0.99
For the most comprehensive local coverage, subscribe today.
The Kings have lost 11 of 12 and at 13-33 have the worst record in the NBA. That’s good for the big picture, a shot at the top pick in this year’s NBA draft, but the plyaers are not excited about their games during this swoon.
“You can’t enjoy individual success right now,” Hield said after scoring 18 points. “It’s all about wins and all that comes afterward. If you’re not getting wins, that means no one is doing their job, collectively, as a group. So it comes with winning first as a team and not worrying about individual stats or whatever.”
Hield’s scoring was his highest since a 24-point performance Dec. 23 against San Antonio. Among the Kings’ 10 players with up to three seasons of experience, only third-year center Willie Cauley-Stein has played in more career games.
Hield has several games this season where he’s scored well, but the losing isn’t easier to deal with because the Kings are focused on youth.
“I hate saying we’re young because we feel like we can compete with anybody, but it’s experience,” Hield said. “... In the NBA you have to learn how to grind out an 82 (game) season and win about 45 to 50 games a season to try to get to the playoffs. That’s the goal. Right now we don’t have that as a team.”
Labissiere scored 33 points in his previous four games, shooting 12 of 31. He was 10 of 15 against the Hornets.
That wasn’t enough to alter the final outcome, one in which the Kings repeated their bad habits of allowing an opponent find its comfort zone on offense early and build a big lead (20 points in the fourth quarter).
The Hornets made a season-high 16 3-pointers, which was good enough to hold off a late Kings’ rally that cut the deficit to three in the fourth quarter.
“The whole goal is to win and to keep getting better,” Labissiere said. “We’re trying to win even though we’re looking at the future of this team. We say we’re young but it’s always nice to win some games along the way. It (does not) matter if I have a great game or not, winning is the ultimate goal. I don’t like going out and losing, that’s not what I play basketball for.”
While players aren’t happy losing, it’s up to the coaching staff and front office to help them see improvement in their game, even if wins aren’t coming with the work.
That was the case Monday, where Labissiere played the kind of aggressive game on offense the Kings want to see in his second season.
“I thought (Labissiere) really scored the ball well and didn’t get glanced off his line,” Kings coach Dave Joerger said. “When he was attacking, he was playing north-south. His hooks weren’t going from stating at eight feet to 14 feet. They started at eight feet, shot it at six or four. I think those things were positive.”
Labissiere was frustrated with this process last season, when the Kings began sitting experienced players to give time to young players. He didn’t like the idea that losing was just part of a process to get better and would say the Kings needed to win games to help validate player development.
He hasn’t changed on that. Labissiere wants to win games and not just accept the mounting losses as part of the process.
“I think everybody here wants to win, we’re competitors,” Labissiere said. “It’s going to take a little while for us because we’re still learning to play with each other defensively, to get on the same page, but it’s going to come together for us. Right now these are the growing pains. We’re going through it and looking at the big picture, I think we’re going to be all right.”