It seems as if it were just 2½ weeks ago the Sacramento Kings were 3-1 and preparing to play the Los Angeles Lakers.
Fast forward to Wednesday night against the New York Knicks, the Kings had lost five straight games, four at home and three to teams struggling as badly if not more than themselves.
The Kings raced to a 15-point lead near the end of the first quarter against New York, which had lost six straight, and the early consensus was Sacramento was moving toward stopping the bleeding with a reconfigured starting unit including Luther Head and Jason Thompson.
Wrong! Now the Kings have lost six straight entering tonight's home game against the New Jersey Nets.
The Kings went to their new second unit and allowed points so quickly, the term point-shaving entered the mindset. The Knicks scored so easily, it was like the Kings just had to be letting them, right?
After the game, coach Paul Westphal said this same second-unit Tuesday had battered the first unit so badly he almost felt sorry for his starters.
Against the Knicks, the second unit received what it had given in the previous day’s practice because during a 20-2 New York run I felt sorry for what predominantly was the Kings second unit of DeMarcus Cousins, Omri Casspi, Darnell Jackson, Francisco Garcia and Beno Udrih.
Or maybe it was that they were sorry. It was one of those two, well, maybe both.
The Kings twice ran away from players with the ball in the half-court. Those are a couple of moves that likely inspired Westphal to later compare their performance to ‘sub sixth-grade basketball that was indescribably bad.’
Now that was an accurate description. Include an incorrect traveling call on Cousins; an accurate traveling call on Cousins, an unnecessary 20-footer by Jackson, who appears to have 15-foot range at best; and a missed layup by Udrih; and the Kings had handed momentum to the Knicks like a friendly black jack dealer with an eight on a 13.
Check out this Kings defensive possession midway through the second quarter with four of the five starters in the game. Carl Landry had just made a jumper over Amare Stoudamire to cut New York’s lead to 38-37.
Then New York’s Toney Douglas (defended by Udrih) runs a high angle screen-roll with Stoudamire (defended by Samuel Dalembert). Stoudamire rolls and on the move gets stopped by Landry. Stoudamire goes to the floor.
Douglas passes to Ronny Turiaf at the top of the key with Stoudamire still on the floor. Turiaf takes one dribble and passes back to Douglas who has faded beyond the three-point line. He makes one hard dribble left to elude Udrih (yes, it was that easily done) and rises for a three-point attempt. Landry steps out to challenge the shot because Udrih now was behind Douglas.
The shot misses badly. Dalembert moves over to box out Turiaf. That leaves Stoudamire, who had risen from the floor, a wide-open path for a two-handed tap dunk and a 40-37 lead.
Now the Kings had spaced the floor on the opposite side with Danilo Gallinari (defended by Garcia) up top and Wilson Chandler (defended by Tyreke Evans) in the short right corner.
Evans remained in a four-foot area throughout the possession and basically did nothing. He didn’t go for the rebound nor did he attempt, maybe not even think about boxing out Stoudamire.
More importantly, Evans (last season’s NBA rookie of the year and 20-5-5 guy, yada, yada, yada) let his teammates down. He certainly could have and should have had Dalembert’s back when the center had Landry’s back who had had Udrih’s back.
On one possession, Udrih and Evans stunk it up defensively. In a five-man game, that’s 40 percent of your defense giving you nothing and the opposition everything.
It was just one possession, but the line between NBA success and failure can be that fleeting. Just like 17 days can turn into a 2½-week trip to hell and just like four minutes can turn a 31-18 Kings lead with 10:35 left in the second to a 38-35 Knicks lead with 6:30 left.
Heck, it wasn’t even four minutes of game time, but in real time it seemed less. And Westphal during one stretch called a time out with 8:59 left and followed with a 20-second time out 45 seconds later.
Now, the Kings had ample opportunities later to win this game, but this one stretch of play, low-lighted by one defensive possession, was an indicator of why they didn’t. It is a possession such as this that leads to Sacramento allowing a league-high 49.2 defensive field-goal percentage.
Moreover, it’s an example of how a team has to work in concert and trust each other defensively if it is going to be successful.
It’s not rocket science but it is a thinking man’s game.
Simply, though, let’s get back to Marty Mac’s theory of needing five or six players performing near or above their potential against the Knicks.
Landry, who is making me re-think his potential of scoring with his back-to-the basket, had 21 points and nine rebounds and played well.
Westphal credited his team with doing a better job of getting Landry the rock. Perhaps the Kings can begin to go inside to Cousins with more diligence and success, too.
Cousins committed a team-high five turnovers, but scored 15 points and had 10 rebounds.
Moreover, he played so hard, it was noticeably different than most of his teammates. The dude is intense. He plays as if he doesn’t want to lose. He sells out. I’m not sure I can say that about each of his teammates.
Donte Greene played 20 minutes, all in the second half and never came out of the game once he entered.
It could just be me, but his quickness and athleticism are needed on this team. He’s going to make mistakes, but when he’s playing really hard and relaxed, the Kings are a better team.
That’s three out of 12 who played well and that will not get the job done.
Evans scored a team-high 23, five of which came after the outcome had been decided. He added five rebounds and five assists, but soon must figure out how to stop leaving his feet and passing.
Being one who was guilty of the same thing, Evans has to stop taking off from so far away from the hoop and not knowing what he’s going to do. He’s got to get one dribble deeper on drives so he can fully take advantage of his strength and body control.
Moreover, he and Udrih both have to stop jumping into the air and passing almost blindly backwards. Those passes usually start the opponents’ fast break.
Udrih scored 18 and helped fuel the Kings fourth-quarter comeback with 11 points, but his recent defense has been embarrassing.
As Head said after the game, “This is so disappointing because we can play so much better than we’ve been playing.”
This is true and in the darkness, you’ve got to look for a little light somewhere. Sacramento’s light from one vantage point is it can play better. Maybe the Kings will when they truly get tired of getting their butts kicked.