When Reality Knocks Down Spirit, and Spirit Gets Back Up

As readers of this site know, I'm (often too) focused on results, numbers, production when it comes to basketball and the Kings. I'd rather have a Rashad McCants than a Mikki Moore, a D-League question mark than a Desmond Mason, a successful play rather than a smart but failed play. David Eckstein is a curse word in my household (for multiple reasons), and while basketball certainly has a (huge) spot for hustle, give me the player who can score 20 standing up over the frenetic scrapper who needs to dive around the floor to break 10.

Basically, I'm rather wary of assessing the non-concrete when it comes to analyzing the sport and this team.

But there's no possible way to discount how spirited, how utterly driven this team has been. It hasn't been just in the face of adversity -- in the New Orleans, Memphis and Atlanta games, before Kevin Martin's surgical departure, the team showed remarkable backbone. It's an institutional attribute at this point, made ever more apparent with each game. Every single player on the roster has shown it, even the punching bags of the past. The Kings just went 0-2 on a road back-to-back, but took their pound of flesh from each opponent. This team hasn't quit, and it won't quit.

It's almost gotten to the point where we should seriously stop comparing this team to the one we watched a year ago.

I have been as quick as anyone to toss out observations like, "Last year's team would have lost by 30" and "Last year's team would have had Chili's take-out sent to the locker room during halftime." But this team has nothing in common with last year's team. Sure, four-fifths of the normal starting line-up spent last year in Sacramento. Sure, half the roster has been in place for at least two seasons. But that's just marbles talking, and marbles can't tell you what it means to exist. This team is not last year's team + 1. It's a brand new invention.

That, of course, makes watching the Kings play infinitely more enjoyable, but is also works against our better judgment in terms of judging the team. Like, the team is now 5-7. No one expected this team to run out to a 5-4, then 5-5, 5-6 and 5-7 record. So it feels like gravy. But it shouldn't! This is no longer a team consigned to 20-25 win expectations decreed by the 17-win result of a season ago. It's own expectations are being formed as we watch, and I believe it's safe to say that while 5-7 is a fair expectation right now, that will change soon.

So we're left enjoying something new, just as we did in 1999. We have no idea what's in store for Omri Casspi (whose Flacoesque "mean face" should be put on a wanted poster), for Donte Greene (a walking exclamation mark), for Jason Thompson (the most frantic brand of smooth I've seen), for Spencer Hawes, for Tyreke Evans, for Kevin Martin, for Beno Udrih. We have no clue what the eventual peak will be, what piece(s) will need to be moved for the team to break the wall (if there is a wall, and wherever it stands), what elation and heartbreak lay ahead. This is the good part, the not-knowing but being excited part. We died for Kenny Natt's sins! And this is some flavor of basketball heaven.

That's why I feel good about a three-game losing streak.

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