Each Kings player has a picture in his locker of the NBA championship trophy with the words “All In” below it.
By the end of the night, they were being taken down one by one. It was fitting considering Sacramento’s latest showing, which had the look of a team ready for the offseason, not the postseason.
The Kings came out flat and lost to the New Orleans Pelicans 109-97 Wednesday night at Sleep Train Arena.
The Kings gave up 16 three-pointers, which matched New Orleans’ franchise record, and looked at least two steps slow on defense most of the night.
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The Kings talk a lot about the playoffs and being fortunate to be in the postseason hunt. But the Kings aren’t playing like a team that yearns to reach the postseason.
Instead, they leave games like Wednesday’s questioning their effort in another lackluster home showing.
“It’s been our problem all year,” said center DeMarcus Cousins. “We’re all talk right now, not backing up what we’re preaching. We look foolish.”
The Pelicans (12-26) made the playoffs last season, but limped into Sleep Train on Wednesday having lost four in a row and six of their last seven, including blowing a lead in the fourth quarter Tuesday night at the Los Angeles Lakers, the only team New Orleans is ahead of in the Western Conference.
But it was the Kings (15-23) who looked as if they’d played a night earlier, rather than having three days off.
“I think every guy in this locker room knows why we lost the game,’ Cousins said. “... They were playing harder than us, and they had more energy to start the game and throughout the game.”
The Kings can back up their talk by playing better defense. The Pelicans entered Wednesday averaging 101 points, but had 90 through three quarters.
They shot 48.5 percent from three-point range, making 16 of 33 attempts.
“Not giving multiple efforts,” Cousins said. “Not playing our defensive schemes. Effort. Effort.”
Eric Gordon (24 points, six assists, three steals), Norris Cole (18 points) and Jrue Holiday (10 assists) became the latest guards to exploit the Kings’ perimeter defense.
Pelicans guard Tyreke Evans left the game in the first quarter with a right knee injury.
“We’ve got to play the defensive end of the court with much more intensity than we play it,” said Kings coach George Karl.
Karl lacks a strong perimeter defender on a roster that boasts plenty of defensive clout with its big men.
“Q (Quincy Acy) gives you a different energy,” Karl said. “Willie (Cauley-Stein) gives you a different energy defensively. Kosta (Koufos is) a good defensive player too. I’m sure we’ll gradually move into a starting lineup that will probably be more defensive minded.”
Cousins said: “Effort, that’s all it is, effort.”
Cousins took responsibility for the loss.
“I can take the blame,” he said. “I did a poor job of not speaking up in the beginning.”
Cousins led the Kings with 32 points, going 13 of 30 from the field (43.3 percent).
The Kings might take solace knowing Utah, Thursday’s opponent, also lost. The Jazz are two games ahead of the Kings for eighth place in the West.
Wednesday reminded the Kings they still have a lot to do to turn playoff talk into reality.
“All we can control is the effort we put out on the floor and what goes on in this locker room,” Cousins said. “If we’re winning games, it don’t really matter who’s losing. It’s on us.”