The Steady Climb

Let's get this out of the way first ...

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The second half of the season, believe it or not, has featured some of the most encouraging losses I've ever experienced as a Kings fan. Perhaps that's to be expected from a young team; I've never been in this situation, though. Even in the later portion of the 1990s dry spell the team wasn't so saturated with youth. Arguably, the team's two best players with Kevin Martin injured are a 22-year-old rookie and a 20-year-old sophomore. (Francisco Garcia's the only other guy in the conversation.) That's a Shock to the system, even if it's what we've wanted since 2005.

The Lakers game Tuesday fell apart in the third quarter, and this one did roughly the same, with Houston rattling off a 19-2 beginning with three minutes left in the third. There's just not enough firepower, or enough defense, to hold a great team down for longer than a half of a game or so. Jason Thompson and Spencer Hawes went nuts in the first half ... but you can't exactly expect them to put up 30/15, right? Likewise, Hawes isn't the right guy to shut out Yao Ming, the best center in the West. Maybe someday, when Yao's old and Hawes is benching Volkswagens. But not now.

And I'm cool with that, and I'm not stressing about the losses, even though I'd like to see at least one more win. I think, though, the growth of Shock & Hawes this past month has reiterated that we have been in the right in criticizing Kenny Natt for strapping Donté Greene to the bench. You can only learn so much in practice, or from watching tape. You need to be out on the floor against NBA players. Shareef and Coachie can teach Thompson every move in the book. But standing across from Luis Scola and doing it will get you to your peak. Experience can't be substituted.

Look at Francisco Garcia. Remember the Cisco Play of the Game -- the one stunningly bad play Flaco would make every single game? He might take a silly shot now and then, but he's not making those mistakes. He's grown up as a player. And he's finishing his fourth season! Start the process earlier, let Greene grow into his NBA identity, and figure out how good he'll be.

It's disappointing that it took this long to get Greene solid rotation minutes. (And who knows, maybe he'll be back on the bench tonight in L.A.) You can't rely on encouraging losses forever; at some point, surprise double-doubles will become expected double-doubles. You can't afford to learn-on-the-fly when winning is the only objective, and that day will come sooner than you think. Two of the kids are getting a legit opportunity to learn. It's unfortunate the third had to wait so long.

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