This is not where the Kings wanted to be. And as a season that once held so much promise draws to a close, they are left to ponder what could have been.
Sacramento ended its five-game losing streak with a 106-98 victory over the Los Angeles Lakers Tuesday night at Staples Center.
“It feels good,” said Kings guard Darren Collison. “A little bit bittersweet. We know we lost some tough ones of late, but it’s always good to get a win and get back on track.”
The Kings did everything they wanted to do all season against the Lakers, who have the worst record in the Western Conference.
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“Consistency,” said Kings All-Star center DeMarcus Cousins. “It’s been our biggest problem this entire season, being a consistent team. Being one team one night and another team (the next), that’s been our issue.”
Tuesday’s Kings model scored a season-high 40 fastbreak points, aided by 30 points off 22 Los Angeles turnovers.
They started well, harassed players on the perimeter and piled up fastbreak points.
These Kings didn’t play like the first quarter was a warmup session, jumping out to a 32-15 lead.
But nights like Tuesday have been too few this season.
“We got off to a bad start against Utah, a really bad start,” Collison said. “So our focus was to really have our defensive presence have an impact on the game early on and everything else would take care of itself.”
The Kings have been at a loss to explain their inconsistent ways all season. It would be easy to say Tuesday was simply a matter of playing the Lakers, but even against teams with worse records, the Kings have looked out of sorts.
On Tuesday, the Kings decided to play defense early and not dig themselves into a double-digit hole.
Some of that was initiated by Willie Cauley-Stein. The rookie has been in and out of the starting lineup, but was back in Tuesday. At times, Cauley-Stein took it upon himself to amp up the backcourt pressure and make it tough on the Lakers.
“We play defense like that, we can run on anybody,” Cauley-Stein said. “The pressure was good. They really couldn’t push it after made goals because we were up on them and were making them not be able to throw it in. That was good. We should have been doing that all season.”
That might be more of a constant next season if Cauley-Stein starts on a regular basis. Since training camp, teammates have been fond of the rookie’s defensive instincts, but coach George Karl has limited his minutes at times for mistakes on the court.
But after looking lethargic in recent games, the Kings had a bounce in their steps Tuesday.
“I thought our speed was very good,” Karl said. “I don’t know if playing Willie gave us the most energy we’ve had since prior to the All-Star break.”
Another reason the Kings looked good was Collison, who along with Cousins scored a game-high 22 points. Rudy Gay added 20 points and Rajon Rondo had 13 points and 12 assists.
The Kings had lost nine of 10 coming in, effectively eliminating themselves from the postseason.
Tuesday was a reminder of what they were supposed to be this season.
“You always have those, what we could have (done),” Cousins said. “You look back and regret a lot of stuff, but you’ve got to learn from those mistakes and keep moving forward.”