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Kings 96, Hornets 105: And the Beat(down) Goes On...

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I'm guessing most basketball fans don't know who this is.  His name is Jason Smith, and he torched the Kings tonight.
I'm guessing most basketball fans don't know who this is. His name is Jason Smith, and he torched the Kings tonight.

With the game out of reach and time running out, Terrence Williams threw the ball ahead to Marcus Thornton for what should have been an extra couple of meaningless points. Instead the pass was overthrown and sailed out bounds, thus perfectly summing up the way this game went for Sacramento.

This is the sixth loss in a row for the Kings in a disappointing season that is slowly coming to a close. It was probably their 2nd most winnable remaining game next to a trip to Charlotte in a couple weeks, and a definite missed opportunity.

The loss spoiled Marcus Thornton's homecoming, as he finished with a game-high 25 points against his former team. Tyreke Evans also had a very good night, scoring 19 points to go with 8 assists (no turnovers), 5 rebounds and 4 steals. Jason Thompson chipped in 18 points and 7 rebounds in his return to the starting lineup, and Terrence Williams added 16 points off the bench.

The Hornets were led by a ridiculously efficient performance from Jason Smith, who scored 22 points on 10 of 12 shooting. Marco Belinelli added 21 points on just 9 shots, and Greivis Vasquez (15 points) and Xavier Henry (14 points) provided key buckets as well.

The Kings got off to a very hot start, moving the ball well and pushing it in transition. Sacramento had 10 assists in the 1st quarter alone, a season high, and got out to an early 29-20 lead. The only thing keeping New Orleans in the game was the play of Jason Smith and perplexing misses by the Kings right at the basket.

It was all downhill from there though, as the Hornets began the 2nd quarter on a tear and the Kings offense faltered, going on a 17 to 6 run to start the quarter. The Kings were able to get back in it a little bit, but Marco Belinelli's tough off-balance three right before the half gave New Orleans the lead and set the tone for what would be a lackluster 2nd half on the Kings part.

The Kings really suffered from the lack of any sort of meaningful contribution from DeMarcus Cousins, who just did not look interested at all in the game tonight. Cousins played just 20 minutes in the game and finished with 7 points (on an atrocious 3 of 12 from the field), 4 rebounds, 2 assists (4 turnovers), 4 steals and 3 fouls. New Orleans doesn't exactly feature premiere defensive big men, and Cousins did have a monster 28 point, 19 rebound performance against this same Hornets team earlier this year. The lack of effort from DeMarcus tonight truly disturbed me. Was it fatigue? Possibly. DeMarcus plays noticeably worse on nights with 0 days of rest according to Basketball-Reference. But it seemed more than fatigue to this observer.

Isaiah Thomas also didn't play or score much, with just 2 points in 21 minutes, his lowest scoring total since joining the starting lineup. He did dish out 7 assists with no turnovers though, so that's good. Sacramento as a whole did a decent job moving the ball throughout the game, finishing with 24 assists to 13 turnovers, but they weren't consistent in doing so. That stretch in the 2nd quarter was particularly worrisome, with the Kings not getting an assist in the quarter until the 4:05 mark.

Outside of Terrence Williams, the Kings bench didn't play well at all. Jimmer Fredette's streak of double-digit scoring games was broken, as he scored just 4 points on 5 shots, with a couple of bad misses thrown in there. Chuck Hayes played almost 22 minutes and registered just 2 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 turnovers and 4 fouls during that time. Donté Greene also played about 20 minutes and had just 3 points, 3 rebounds, 2 blocks and 3 fouls to his name. Hassan Whiteside got an early look, but rolled his ankle after stepping on Gustavo Ayon's foot. He was unable to leave the court without help, but X-rays did come back negative. It looked bad on the replay though, and I wouldn't be surprised if his season was over.

Sacramento's defense was again atrocious. The Hornets are among the worst offensive teams in the NBA: 28th in Offensive Rating, 29th in Points Per Game, and 14th in Field Goal Percentage. Yet tonight the Hornets scored 105 points (16 above their average) on 55.9% from the field. Guys like Jason Smith, Marco Belinelli and Xavier Henry carved up the Kings defense like the Maloofs trimming payroll. It was not a pretty sight. There needs to be a renewed focus on defensive effort and intensity next season.

The Kings were able to recover the lead early in the 3rd quarter thanks to the continued hot play of Marcus Thornton, but New Orleans answered right back with yet another big run, this time with Greveis Vasquez leading the way. Vasquez hit several big shots, found his teammates for easy buckets, and just like that the Hornets were up by 9 going into the 4th with the Kings looking generally lifeless.

They were shocked back into life in the final quarter by the strong play of one Terrence Williams. Williams scored 9 of his 14 points in the first five minutes of the quarter before passing the baton along to Jason Thompson and Tyreke Evans. Thompson and Evans scored inside and out to bring the Kings back into the game, cutting the lead to just 4 points with 4:05 remaining. Evans played like a star much of the night, and his jumper looked as good as it ever has, but he began to slow down beyond that point, reverting back to the Tyreke "Hero-Ball" of old. It cost the Kings down the stretch as the Hornets were able to withstand Sacramento's run.

It wasn't over yet though, and Marcus Thornton's jumper with 1:53 left made it 99-94. Belinelli missed a three and Thornton tried to cut the lead even further with his own three, but he missed as well. The Kings were basically forced to foul from then on and weren't able to hit any of their desperation three attempts that might have kept them in it.

It wasn't an appalling loss by any means, but it was definitely a disappointing one. To me, this Kings team is much better than what they have shown throughout this season. They have played surprisingly well against some very good teams, but also disappointingly bad against not-so-good teams, like the Hornets. One of those very good teams that they have beaten is the Thunder, and they'll get three more tries to do it again before the season is up, with the first try coming this Friday in Oklahoma City.

Random Observations:

  • DeMarcus did not look happy after being pulled for showboating (or trying to at least, since he turned it over) in the 1st quarter. But I loved that Smart pulled him for that, because it was completely unnecessary for him to play as if he were the point guard and try to get onto SportsCenter. Accountability, no matter how good you are.
  • Gustavo Ayon is the Mexican Jason Thompson, right down to not being able to keep his mouth closed.
  • Hornets have a lot of guys who would be great role players on good teams, but alas are not a good team. It'll be a while before New Orleans recovers from the loss of Paul. Two lottery picks this year and another one next year will be a big help though.
  • I've noticed Jimmer actually playing the PG more and more often lately. He's either gaining more trust from Keith Smart or learning how to handle pressure better. I think it's a bit of both.
  • Marcus Thornton has one of the quickest releases I've ever seen on his jumper. It's shockingly fast.
  • Terrence Williams makes rebounding look exciting with his athleticism.
  • New Orleans has some really fun personaliztion sound effects and stuff they do with their players. The Chewbacca growls for Kaman free throws, the Italian Flags for Belinelli threes, etc. It's good stuff.
  • Every time we've played the Hornets this year it seems they've had a new D-Leaguer on the team who I had never heard of. Tonight's was Jerome Dyson.
  • Jerry and Grant made the point on air that Jason seems to complain almost every time he hears a whistle, no matter if its against him or not. Calm down, big fella.

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