The Cavaliers. The Magic. The Trail Blazers. The Thunder. If you want to prolong the memories and misery, add the Pelicans, Wizards and Jazz to the list.
Sleep Train Arena closes its doors for basketball in mid-April, and though the Kings stayed in town, the celebration will be disappointingly subdued. While waiting for Vlade Divac to hire an experienced general manager, someone with the inclination to gut, eviscerate, filet the current roster – select the active verb of your choosing – the best performances in the old arena will come from the playoff-chasing competition.
Kevin Durant. Russell Westbrook. Anthony Davis. They will still visit. On Wednesday, LeBron James is in town, with his Cavaliers mysteriously limping and listing at his side. During the Cavaliers’ own tumultuous season, coach David Blatt was replaced by Tyronn Lue, key players have missed significant time with injury, and meltdowns have not been uncommon. Just before this trip, the defending Eastern Conference champions suffered an embarrassing 106-103 home loss to the Grizzlies, who were without Marc Gasol, Mike Conley and Zach Randolph.
About the same time Monday, the Kings were blowing another 17-point lead in New Orleans in their usual infuriating manner: careless turnovers; lack of ball movement, cohesion and communication; and defensive brain freezes in decisive moments.
“For some reason we slowed down,” coach George Karl said after Monday’s collapse. “I thought we had the zip, the enthusiasm. We were playing fast. We made some shots and got up. It was like a flood coming our way. We were holding it off, but we were turning the ball over. We were playing against the shot clock. They were the running team. We didn’t have a lot of continuity, and defensively, we were just giving up too many layups. We never got any penetration in the game. Tough loss.”
Which is more painful to watch? The Kings’ recurring defensive lapses or an offense that has morphed into a methodical duet featuring Rajon Rondo and DeMarcus Cousins? The further the Kings advance into the season, the slower their pace becomes. That 24-second clock can last hours. That grand Sleep Train Arena finale can’t happen soon enough. Shut the doors, and please lock them tight.
But Kings fans aren’t the only stockholders in this perplexing brand of basketball. Despite their conference-leading record, the Cavaliers have plenty of issues. too. The team that lost LeBron, reclaimed LeBron and reached the 2015 Finals is laboring to establish its identity, and at the worst possible time.
James, who at 31 should be cherished every time he walks into an arena, still hasn’t explained a series of weird motivational tweets he posted days ago. While no one can peer into his mind, those tweets were a gold mine for inference and innuendo, and some have suggested they speak to internal discord. Longtime NBA writer Chris Mannix of The Vertical quoted one scout who claimed the chemistry between James and point guard Kyrie Irving was “basically nonexistent.”
More misery craving company? Kevin Love is converting 22 percent of his three-pointers since the All-Star break and losing minutes to the more physical Tristan Thompson. Lue, a first-time head coach, is attempting a difficult in-season philosophical overhaul – going smaller and pushing the pace offensively. And while James’ brilliance ensures the Cavaliers are capable of winning on any night, under any circumstance, the conventional three-star approach (James, Irving and Love) is losing momentum to the inclusive, aggressive style of the Warriors, Spurs, Raptors and Celtics, among others.
At this point, opponents fear the Warriors and the Spurs … and LeBron James. He makes his Sleep Train Arena farewell Wednesday in the building where he made his NBA debut. For Kings fans, enjoy. This season, these moments are as good as it gets.