at New Orleans, Friday night, 3rd quarter
Kevin Martin, your leading scorer on the season despite being third on the squad in shots per game, went for 12 points on 4 for 5 shooting in the first half. Your team leads at the half by four. Martin misses three shots in the early part of the third, two of which are in-and-out threeballs. There are now seven minutes left in the third. Your team is now down by four. You sub out Martin for a defender (John Salmons) despite the fact that the only player scoring for New Orleans (Desmond Mason) is being guarded not by Martin, but by former Defensive Player of the Year Ron Artest. Your offensive weapons now on the floor consist of Artest (2-7 in the first half) and Mike Bibby (4-9 in the first half). You score only 10 points in the entire third quarter. You lose the game by four points, scoring 84 points in approximately 89 possessions, for an offensive rating of 94.3.
at Dallas, Saturday night, 4th quarter
Through three quarters, Martin has 17 points on 6-11 shooting. Artest has been great, with 20 points on 9-12 shooting. Bibby? Also good with 10 points on 5-10 shooting. You lead the best team in the league 79-75, thanks to a Kevin Martin three at the buzzer. Artest has injured his heel, and it's not clear if he will be able to return to action. To start the fourth, Bibby throws a bad pass, which turns into a Dirk Nowitzki jumper to drop the margin to two points. You take out Martin. Dallas proceeds to go on a 7-0 run over the next 1 min, 21 sec. Your offensive possessions in that span: Corliss Williamson misses a jumper, Bibby misses a three, Salmons misses a jumper. The Kings now trail by five. You bring Martin back in. The Kings never get closer than a one-point deficit, and lose by two.
at Memphis, Monday night, 4th quarter
6 min, 14 sec left in the fourth. Kings lead 106-101. Martin has 22 pts on 9-15 shooting. (He had 19 pts in the first half, and got exactly 3 shots in the third quarter.) You sub out Martin for defender Salmons to get some stops. You leave Bibby and Brad Miller, not noted for their defense, in the game. In the next 2 min 19 sec, the Grizzlies four possessions go like this: Hakim Warrick hits two free throws, Pau Gasol gets a dunk off a Chucky Atkins drive to the hoop, Dahntay Jones misses a jumper as the shot clock buzzes, Warrick gets a layup. 6 pts in four possessions. Meanwhile, your offense: a hideous Miller runner/jumper/ball-vomit misses, Miller hits an elbow jumper, Artest gets a layup, Bibby misses a jumper. 4 pts on four possessions. Unsurprisingly, during that 2 min 19 sec Martin is out, the margin decreases from Kings +5 to Kings +3. The Kings end up losing by seven.
Who knows if these substitutions had any real bearing on the results of these games. The Kings offense outside of Martin was so bad in New Orleans, it's amazing the finish was so close. Dallas is freaking Dallas. And when you allow a team to shoot 58%, as in last night's game, you're probably going to lose in the end.
But this pattern of taking out your best player in the most crucial of situations - as your lead slips away, as a superior opponent prepares to put the hammer on you, as an offensive firefight approaches its apex - shows me the coach doesn't realize who his best player is. What other coach in this league would take out his best player in these situations? Yes, Martin needs a second-half rest. There are times in which to do this. But these are crucial moments. Bibby's in there for them. So is Artest. Even Miller stays in for the key moments. But Martin? That's when he gets his rest. And, at least on this road trip, that's when the Kings lose these games.