Coming into last night, there was about as much hope as could be expected for a team that had lost five in a row. Sacramento was competing nightly against some very good teams, even though they weren't pulling out victories. The Lakers presented another quality opponent, but one that was banged up with several key players out. Sacramento came out strong and won each of the first three quarters, only to let the game slip away thanks to what might have been the worst quarter of the season.
This was not a good loss, not even close. This is the first loss of the season where I pin much of the blame on Coach Malone, although the players definitely deserve their fair share of criticism.
So what went wrong? For starters, the rotation that played most of the fourth was abysmal. The Kings rolled out a lineup of Isaiah Thomas, Marcus Thornton, John Salmons, Patrick Patterson and Chuck Hayes. There is literally one trustworthy offensive weapon in that lineup (Isaiah) and the Lakers knew it. Ball movement slid to a standstill, and when the Kings did get shots, they weren't hitting. For the second straight game in a row, Patrick Patterson shot 1-9 from the field. His regression this season has been absolutely baffling considering how good of a shooter he was last season. Now I cringe whenever I see him taking a wide open shot.
Marcus Thornton continues to give us nothing on offense, which is not the norm of the last few years. Thornton is just a couple years removed from averaging nearly 20 points a game for us, and now it seems as though he only shows up once every five games. I will say that he's been putting in a lot more effort on the defensive end, but offensively he's been awful.
John Salmons actually shot well last night, but when he's in the game you tend to get a lot of dribbling and isolation. The Lakers were also able to take advantage of Chuck Hayes' short stature, with Jordan Hill grabbing rebound upon rebound for second chance opportunities. Those second chances came as the Kings forced bad shots, only to see the Lakers score anyway because nobody could secure the rebound.
Malone eventually put Cousins in for Hayes, but that came with it's own set of problems. DeMarcus was not having a good game. His 6-17 performance was his worst shooting night in a while, and he also had 6 turnovers, making repeated bad decisions (like trying to run the fast break again) or driving into the middle of the defense. Perhaps the worst part of Cousins' game though was his Pick and Roll defense. The Lakers absolutely destroyed Cousins in the Pick and Roll. Robert Sacre (ROBERT FREAKING SACRE) managed to score 11 points on 5-7 shooting in just over 16 minutes, largely by punishing Cousins when he overhelped on Steve Blake.
Coach's next substitution was to take Isaiah Thomas out of the game for Greivis Vasquez. Thomas hadn't been playing particularly well in the quarter up to that, but the Kings needed offense and Thomas is the guy leading the NBA in fourth quarter scoring. He's the guy who just a game ago scored 21 points in the fourth quarter. This is a guy you want in at the end of games. With the small ball lineup the Lakers were playing, we could have had both Vasquez and Thomas in the game, but instead our second best player gets benched for the final four minutes.
Coach Malone also kept Ben McLemore and Jason Thompson out of the game for far too long. Thompson played just 23 minutes, but shot 4-5 from the field with 5 rebounds. Ben McLemore was having the best game of his career, and he didn't re-enter the game until the final minutes when momentum was all Lakers. The fact that those two players sat for most of the fourth while Patterson and Thornton (a combined 4 points on 12 shots) got so much time is inexcusable. That's on Coach Malone.
This was an atrocious loss, one that the Kings still somehow had a chance to win despite how bad the fourth quarter was. The Kings had just 8 turnovers heading into the 4th quarter, and then 7 in the 4th quarter. At least three of those turnovers came in the final couple minutes when the Kings desperately needed a bucket. The Kings failed to execute, and it cost them the game.
As a fan at the arena, this was an infuriating loss. Yes, long term it's better if we lose, and it was very nice to see Ben McLemore have a great game, but this was not the kind of loss you want. This was a game that Sacramento had in their hands, only for them to give it to the other team.
The Kings play the Jazz tonight. If they lose and Milwaukee wins, we'll officially have the worst record in the NBA. But last night, we felt like the worst team in the NBA anyway.
- Our best player in the fourth quarter last night? Nick Young, who was nearly shooting the Lakers in the foot with how many bad shots he took. The Kings couldn't take advantage.
- Ben McLemore looked great last night aside from that late turnover. He seemed to slow down just a tad and it paid off big dividends as his stroke looked pure. He needs a lot more finesse around the basket though, right now when he's not dunking he's not hitting anything at the rim. He looks like he's shotputting his floaters.
- Wesley Johnson is becoming a quality roleplayer in the NBA, which wasn't such a sure thing a couple years ago. He's becoming a "3-and-D" guy that probably would be starting for Sacramento.
- Mike D'Antoni has done an incredible job with this Lakers team. It almost feels like they're a playoff team without Kobe Bryant. It'll be interesting to see how they play when he comes back since they'll be taking their best shooter (Jodie Meeks) out of the lineup for him.