With just about a quarter of the season left and the playoffs long out of reach, development has become the mantra, even over wins. At some points, that focus on development leads to disappointing losses against the Lakers where it doesn't look worth it, but then you get games like last night where it all seems to come together.
Last night's game against the Pelicans was in itself a perfect embodiment of that feeling, as the first half was absolutely atrocious to watch, perhaps the least entertaining half of basketball this season. The officials were blowing whistles left and right, but not with any type of consistency, and nobody on either team could hit a shot. It was two bad teams playing poorly, and that's never fun to watch.
The third quarter started much the same, with the whole team coming out of the locker room seemingly lethargic and uninterested. New Orleans even took the lead thanks to a trio of three pointers hit on consecutive possessions by former King Tyreke Evans (the only player who can say he had a great night all around with 27 points, 10 rebounds and 8 assists) and Eric Gordon. Things were looking grim, until a Ray of sunshine appeared.
Ray McCallum hasn't gotten many minutes this year until the last few games. He spent quite a bit of the first half of the season plying his trade in Reno or sitting on the bench. Despite that, he's come along these past couple weeks, with last night probably being his best game as a pro yet. Ray lit a fire under this team in the third quarter, scoring an and-one on a breakaway, playing tough defense, leaping high for boards and just being aggressive. That's the mentality I love seeing from rookies.
Newcomer Reggie Evans deserves a lot of credit for changing the tone and energy as well. Reggie's a guy that knows exactly what his strengths are and doesn't try to do more than that. He reminds me a little bit of Scot Pollard in that way. Evans is a monster on the glass, he brings a physical presence in the paint, and he even showed off a soft touch around the basket. He and Cousins together were cleaning the boards on both ends of the floor, combining for 25 total (New Orleans had just 30 as a team) and 10 offensive rebounds.
Thanks to Ray and Reggie, the rest of the team seemed to come to life as well. Isaiah Thomas started feeling it and Rudy Gay got going as well. It changed the momentum of the game into Sacramento's favor and they kept that up through the final quarter to get the win.
As we head into this road trip, I expect to see more of Ray McCallum and Ben McLemore. This period is crucial for their development, and if they can have more nights like they did tonight, they can solidify a place in this league and in this team's future.
- Jason Thompson did a phenomenal job guarding Anthony Davis. Davis wasn't able to get anything going in the paint, and instead settled for mostly jumpers. He finished with 13 points on just 4-14 from the field with 4 rebounds and no blocks.
- Ben McLemore showcased some aggressiveness attacking the basket. He scored 10 points on 3-4 shooting, 4-4 from the line. His sole miss was his only shot outside of the paint. He was decisive attacking the rim. I thought he played pretty decent defense on Eric Gordon too, and had more trouble with Anthony Morrow.
- Speaking of Eric Gordon, what has happened to him? This is a guy that looks like he just doesn't really care all that much. I know he didn't want to sign in New Orleans in the first place, but he just seems like he's going through the motions.
- Turnovers continued to be a problem for the Kings. I'm not as worried about the lack of assists (11) because the Kings got the line for 41 attempts, and you don't get an assist for those, but 18 turnovers total, with 15 of them coming from Isaiah, Rudy and DeMarcus. Those are the three guys that have the ball the most, and they've all been sloppy lately.
- Austin Rivers is just not very good. At one point the Kings even did "Hack-a-Rivers" because he had missed four free throws in a row. He finished with 6 points on 2-9 shooting and 2-6 from the line.