On Jan. 23, the Kings pulled within three games of a .500 record at 20-23 by beating the Indiana Pacers.
Optimism was high, the Kings were moving up the Western Conference standings, and the playoff talk from the team did not seem unrealistic.
That’s also the last time the Kings beat a team with that has a winning record. Sacramento is 4-11 since, after allowing a season-high in points in a 131-116 loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder Monday night at Sleep Train Arena.
The past 15 games have seen the Kings go from eighth to 10th in the Western Conference. Now looms a four-game trip against three teams with winning records and playoff aspirations.
The only thing the Kings have done consistently lately is give up a lot of points. In their past 15 games, the Kings have given up no fewer than 104 points.
“The frustration, the confidence right now, there’s no question we’re heavy a little bit,” said Kings coach George Karl. “No one is going to feel sorry for us. No one is going to give us a game. We’re just going to have to figure out how to go get one.”
What continues to happen is the Kings allow their opponents to post season-highs with regularity.
The Thunder shot 57.3 percent, a season high. Oklahoma City’s bench scored a season-high 64 points led by Enes Kanter, who made all 11 of his shots for 23 points.
“I think we let some of their not-bigger-name players make an impact on the game,” Kings center DeMarcus Cousins said.
Besides Kanter, Dion Waiters had 22 points, too. Kyle Singler added 11 off the bench for the Thunder.
And Oklahoma City’s big names had their way, too.
Russell Westbrook had his ninth triple double of the season and second against the Kings with 20 points, 15 assists and 13 rebounds.
Kevin Durant had 27 points, 10 rebounds and six assists.
Still as the Kings continue to struggle to win, their two vocal leaders, Cousins and Rajon Rondo, continue to preach playoffs.
Even at 24-34, the Kings are four games out of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
“I’m trying to be more vocal and tell guys we’ve got to play with more of a sense of urgency,” Rondo said. “We have something to play for.”
Said Cousins, who had 35 points and 12 rebounds: “I’m still confident we can turn things around. Still a lot of time, a lot of games left. The way this season has gone, anything can happen.”
But to turn things around, the Kings will have to start defending and after 58 games, they haven’t shown they can do that consistently.
The only thing keeping the Kings within reach of the playoffs are recent struggles by Utah and Houston.
“It’s been an ugly season for the West,” Rondo said. “We haven’t taken care of business like we’re supposed to, there are a lot of questionable games we’re probably going to look back on and wish that we could have had but we can’t look back at the past.”
Rondo returned to the lineup after missing a game with a sprained right thumb. Rudy Gay (right shoulder strain) and Seth Curry (sprained right foot) were unavailable.
Rondo (11 points, 12 assists) was also called for three delay of game technical fouls, something most had never seen in a game. Two were called with 1.2 seconds to go in the first half with the Kings trying to inbound the ball.
“(The referee said Rondo) wouldn’t take the ball,” Karl said. “And the same thing on the last one, that Rondo refused to accept the ball and he let the ball drop on the ground from what I could tell. And probably think Rondo was stubborn and (official) Marc (Davis) got a little stubborn.”
Rondo offered little on the topic.
“I can’t comment,” he said. “I might get fined by the NBA.”
So Tuesday the Kings will travel to Memphis for a Wednesday game, hoping to reverse their slide that’s gone on for more than a month and drained optimism from the team.
“You’ve got to see the positive,” Karl said. “I know everybody wants to win every game, I know everybody wants to stay strong. The schedule has not been easy for us and it won’t be easy probably until the middle of March where we get some (lesser) teams coming in here … but we’re good enough to win on the road. We’ve played better on the road than we’ve played at home and that’s what we’ve got to do.”