There comes a point in a season like this where it becomes apparent the goals of training camp aren’t going to be achieved.
And it shows in the form of a team that looks drained, unable to shake out of a funk that’s lasted nearly two months for the Kings.
The latest evidence of the reality that this will be a season just like the previous non-playoff nine came in the form of a 107-100 loss to the Orlando Magic on Friday night at Sleep Train Arena.
The Kings have lost four games in a row, eight of their last nine and 16 of their last 21.
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Kings coach George Karl said he doesn’t “think it’s doomsday” because of the Kings’ recent play, but acknowledged mental fatigue can be tougher to overcome than physical fatigue.
“Your mind has to think sharply, quickly and aggressively,” Karl said. “We haven’t had a consistent rotation, so there might not be a lot of confidence sometimes in the rotation, but you’ve got to fight through that.”
But it might be harder to fight as the season winds down. The Kings were without DeMarcus Cousins, who was suspended for conduct detrimental to the team for an outburst aimed at Karl after Wednesday’s loss to Cleveland.
The Kings did not come out like a team eager to show it could win without its star. Instead they were down 16-4 in a start that what guard Darren Collison said was “a little lethargic” and “unacceptable.”
“It’s the NBA; you really can’t make excuses,” Collison said. “We know the situation we’re dealing with, but at the same time we’ve been part of similar experiences on different teams, and you’ve got to go out there and try to win a game.”
The Kings hoped to be jockeying for playoff position at this time of the season, but instead they continue to fade by allowing yet another team to shoot above 50 percent (51.9 percent) and struggling with their own shots (39.8 percent).
“We’ve just got to be better,” said forward Rudy Gay. “Whether we’re tired or not, find ways to get rest, find ways to get wins.”
Playing without Cousins, the team’s leading scorer and rebounder, didn’t help.
Guard Rajon Rondo said he did not think Cousins’ suspension led to the Kings being unable to play well or was a distraction.
“I don’t think it’s carried over to anyone as far as being not focused or being ready for the task tonight,” Rondo said.
The Kings will have Cousins on Sunday when they host Utah. But that won’t change the disappointment of how a team that is more talented than any during this decade-long playoff drought is closer to the NBA draft lottery than the postseason.
The frustration has only grown over the recent struggles that have seen the Kings slide to 25-39.
“It’s tough, it’s very tough,” Gay said. “I’m not going to sit here and say I’m happy with how we’re playing or what’s going on this season because I’m not, but it’s tough. It’s a growing experience.”
It’ll be up to Karl to coax whatever he can out of his team as the season draws near its end.
“They’re competitors, they’re not happy,” Karl said. “Individually, they’ve got to bring the competitive pride to want to end this. If we do that, we will win games, we will find ways to win.”
Aaron Gordon led the Magic (28-36) with 20 points and 11 rebounds. Victor Oladipo added 18 points and Jason Smith had a season-high 16 points.
Kosta Koufos led the Kings with a season-high 19 points off the bench. Rondo had 16 points and 14 assists. Marco Belinelli had 17 points off the bench for Sacramento.