You never like it when you’re an NBA team and the opposition doesn’t even know you’re there, which is how Kings coach Dave Joerger broke down his team’s relationship with the Memphis Grizzlies on Saturday.
“They didn’t feel us at any point,” Joerger said.
It was a lousy way for the Kings to ring out the Old Year. Less than a week earlier, on the night after Christmas, several Western Conference teams had felt the Kings’ presence in their rise to the eighth and final slot of the playoff standings. It made them impossible to ignore. Next thing you knew, they lost at Portland, and on Saturday at home, the Grizzlies needed a seance to detect the Kings’ presence at Golden 1 Center.
Now the Kings go to Denver on Tuesday before they come home for seven games.
Had the Kings beaten Memphis, they would have gone 8-7 in December. It doesn’t sound like much, completing a month of games with a winning record – until you consider that in this decade, the Kings have done it exactly twice.
So the Kings will try again in January. They play a winnable game on Tuesday night in Denver before coming home to G1C. The Heat, Pistons and Pacers also look beatable. You know the Clippers and Thunder will present stiff challenges. As for the Cavaliers and Warriors, you hope the Kings will at least be able to get the attention of last year’s NBA Finals-ists.
Joerger informed the media after Saturday’s game that he has a plan to make the Kings’ presence better felt. He said he intends to play some of the different, younger cards in his hand. In Saturday’s sluggish defeat, he called in Malachi Richardson for 10 minutes and eight seconds of work and Skal Labissiere and George Papagiannis for three minutes and 16 seconds of action each.
Looking at the next couple of weeks, Joerger said, “I think I’m going to start playing some of the younger guys.”
Mainly, he mentioned that he intends to give an extended look to Richardson, the rookie out of Syracuse. Circumstances have dictated the decision. Rudy Gay, Arron Afflalo and Ty Lawson are all out because of injuries. Somebody has to step up for them, and it looks as if it’s going to be Richardson.
Had the Kings beaten Memphis, they would have gone 8-7 in December.
The 6-foot-6 shooting guard played with confidence against the Grizzlies, sinking a couple of jumpers, including a 3-pointer, and making his two free-throw attempts. It was his fifth appearance of the season. His seven points tied the previous high-water mark of his professional career, established Dec. 14 in a loss at Houston.
Joerger’s announcement to the media was the first Richardson heard of his soon-to-be-increased workload.
“I hope you’re all not lying to me,” he told reporters who gave him the news.
Richardson welcomes the plan.
“I’ve been waiting for it,” he said of the opportunity. “I’ve been looking forward to it.”
Mostly this year, Richardson has been on the road, putting in the 135 miles between here and Reno to play with the D-League Bighorns. In his 11 games on the other side of the Sierra, he has averaged 21.0 points. The glimpses you got of him on New Year’s Eve told you it looks as if he can play on this side of the range, too.
“I’m just trying to learn as much as possible,” Richardson said.
His plan is a good one.
“I just got to get in and be aggressive,” he said. “If they’re going to play me, I’m going to get out there and play as hard as I can.”
One person who is never hard to feel on the Kings is DeMarcus Cousins. During the Kings’ recent four-game winning streak, he played at levels usually set aside for people whose names begin with LeBron or end in Curry. His averages during the streak spoke for themselves – 34.5 points, 9.0 rebounds, 4.0 assists, 2.0 steals and 2.0 blocks a game. If he can replicate those numbers across the rest of the season, and if the Kings make the playoffs, there might actually be some substance to those MVP chants that have rippled here and there at Golden 1 Center.
34.5 DeMarcus Cousins’ scoring average during the Kings’ recent four-game winning streak
On the flip side, his temperament continues to take him out of rhythm. It happened again in the third quarter against Memphis when Cousins shoved Jarell Martin after the Grizzlies’ backup power forward fouled him underneath the basket. Martin’s Memphis teammate, Vince Carter, picked up the debate for his side. Amid the conversation, Cousins said something that impelled an official to smack him with his 10th technical foul of the season. You could feel the bad vibe all the way up to the Sierra Nevada Draught House, a craft beer drinker’s perch high atop G1C.
With the New Year now upon us, the Kings are 14-19, compared with 13-20 in the early days of 2016, when they won seven of their next 10 and finished the month with one of those two winning records.
As for now, “Guys are trying as hard as they can,” Joerger said. “They’re giving everything they’ve got. That’s all you can ask for.”
Whether you can feel them or not.