As the Kings exited the visiting locker room at Wells Fargo Arena on Wednesday, there were the familiar well wishes with most of the players about to scatter for the All-Star break.
There also was a feeling from coaches, players and others traveling with the team that if any team needed a break, it’s the Kings.
This season was supposed to be different from the previous nine that ended before the playoffs, but the Kings’ recent slump makes it feel the same.
Amid reports the Kings would move on to their fourth coach in 14 months, eight losses in 10 games and often uninspired play, the Kings entered the break on a winning note after rallying to beat Philadelphia on Wednesday.
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“We all need the break,” Kings coach George Karl said. “I think it’s a good time for a break. It gives you a luxury of trying to get back into a positive energy rather than the negative energy that's been hanging over our team the last couple of days.”
We all need the break. I think it’s a good time for a break. It gives you a luxury of trying to get back into a positive energy rather than the negative energy that’s been hanging over our team the last couple of days.
George Karl, Kings coach
That negative energy dominated as the Kings plummeted in the Western Conference standings and allowed season and career highs to players with nearly every opponent. It led many league observers to speculate when, not if, Karl would be fired.
And imagine how awkward Sacramento’s first game after the break would have been if Karl had been fired and his replacement coached against Denver and Michael Malone, who was fired by the Kings in December 2014. The teams will meet Feb. 19 at Sleep Train Arena in their first game after the break.
General manager Vlade Divac said Karl will continue as coach, giving him time to figure out how to improve Sacramento’s defensive flaws.
The Kings have allowed the most three-point attempts (29.2) and makes (10.8) per game in the league. Their three-point defense has been so poor that even the worst-shooting teams feel empowered because they know they’re likely to have plenty of open looks.
The Kings also have given up too many second-chance points, and their turnovers have led to easy scoring opportunities. They rank last in points allowed (109.1) and are third worst in turnovers (15.8).
The four-game trip leading into the break was thought to be an opportunity for the Kings to show their heart. Instead, they played their worst defense of the season but did rally from 17 points down against Philadelphia, which has the worst record in the NBA, for their only win on the trip.
The frustration was evident on each defensive breakdown, with players trying to figure out what was wrong before they even made it back to the huddle during timeouts.
As much as the Kings needed Wednesday’s victory, they needed a break even more, giving players time to clear their heads while the coaching staff tries to improve the leaky defense.
“We definitely need it,” said forward Quincy Acy, who sparked the Kings off the bench against Philadelphia. “It’s been a rough past couple of days, and everyone needs to get away and come back with a clear mind. We have the talent to do some special things in this league. We all need to come together and make it happen.”
We definitely need it. It’s been a rough past couple of days, and everyone needs to get away and come back with a clear mind. We have the talent to do some special things in this league. We all need to come together and make it happen.
Quincy Acy, Kings forward
Guard Darren Collison agreed.
“Definitely,” he said. “You need anything positive right now.”
The Kings are 4 1/2 games behind Utah for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference and need substantial improvements, especially on defense, to reach the top eight.
Center DeMarcus Cousins, the Kings’ only representative at All-Star Weekend in Toronto, hopes the victory in Philadelphia will spark a playoff push.
“Go into the break, ease your mind a little bit,” Cousins said, “and come back and try to turn this thing around.”