Unsurprisingly, the Kings took on a mediocre (or worse) team, played poorly and lost. That makes nine of the last 10 games, three straight overall and drops the Kings to 4-10 on the season, with -- as I always emphasize -- the early part of the schedule slipping away. The Kings draw the Bulls and Pacers in Sacramento before venturing back to L.A. to take on the Lakers this week. Barring a dramatic shift in course, the record is going to get worse before it gets better.
After 14 games last year, the Kings were 6-8. The year prior -- that incredible 17-win season -- the Kings were 5-9 at this point. (At that point, Sacramento went on a bad losing streak, eventually costing Reggie Theus his job.) This is the Kings' worst record through 14 games since 1993. Nineteen ninety-three. (Evers Burns! Evers Burns!)
The effort was largely pathetic on Thanksgiving. The team gave up on so many plays, and eventually the game. The team abandoned what worked, ignored what didn't, and in the second half played like a high school team on the first day of practice. Seriously, this team looked more polished in preseason. Is Tyreke Evans' plantar fasciitis really gluing everyone's feet to the floor?
The defense that has guided the Kings through the Nets-Hornets-Jazz triptych disappeared as the Clippers shot better than 50 percent, as Eric Gordon (largely guarded by Luther Head) shredded Sacramento for 28 points in 17 FGAs, as Blake Griffin conquered the interior for 25 points on 11 FGAs.
The Clippers hit two threes all night, had a grip of turnovers (17) ... and still scored 1.08 points per possession (above league average, well above the Clippers' season average). That's pathetic defense, again, after a short respite.
Why? Did Head and Donte Greene and Samuel Dalembert simply forget how to defend?
No, not quite. It's more that any play by an opponent that involves defensive rotation by the Kings ends in disaster. The Kings' bigs don't rotate well -- only Dalembert blocks shots, and no other big draws charges. Griffin 86'd Dalembert by getting him into quick foul trouble; after that, the only King who credibly defended Blake for more than one possession was ... Tyreke Evans. That's not sustainable, and came because of a couple switches, which:
a) Paul Westphal has to call for because this team is so bad at defending the pick-and-roll, and
b) creates even more problems because of the clueless defensive rotation scheme behind the pick-and-roll.
Head can guard a lot of guys straight-up. So can Greene. So can Dalembert. But get these guys on the move and ask any other King to make the right decision on defense, and it's almost always a bucket for the opponent. I almost think the Kings did better defensively against those teams with strong point guards simply because, given that the offense ran through those guards, the Kings' best defenders could key up. Against the Clippers, with a diversified if crummy offense, that didn't work. Gordon ran pick-and-rolls wide; Griffin faced up and spun the Kings into oblivion; Al-Farouq Aminu dove to the rim; DeAndre Jordan and Craig Smith eked out space inside.
On the other end, one thing worked: Carl Landry, anywhere. Hot Carl had 15 points on nine shots in the first half. How many shots do you think he got in the second half? ... Two. Two FGAs after being the only reliable King in the first half (and really, in the last five or six games). Landry started slowly this season, but has really come alive. Getting him last February was to be a boon to the Kings' interior game. Yet the Kings ignore him for long stretches. And sure, the Clippers shaded him. But Carl has shown some ability to move the ball upon doubles (or use quick moves to split the defenders and get the ball on the rim). Despite that, the Kings wouldn't go there. PFFFTTT.
We criticize, of course, but does anyone see an easy fix? Re-inserting Beno Udrih for Head would have left Gordon with 40. Moving DeMarcus Cousins into the starting five for Dalembert would have meant Cousins or Landry (who had some feisty back-and-forth with Griffin) would have been in early foul trouble. Putting Omri Casspi into the game between Evans and Greene probably wouldn't have helped force Evans to be more aggressive; the team's ubiquitous dependence on one-on-one play would have been re-emphasized. There are no answers until these players get better.
If it's a health issue for Evans -- he's now .412 on the season, taking essentially the same shots that got him to .458 last year -- then that's one thing. But you get the sense the players are even more frustrated than we are as fans. I wouldn't have thought that possible, but the looks on their faces -- unanimously bleak -- tell a story. The Kings are not happy, and they shouldn't be. This is bad, bad, bad.