The Sacramento Kings have been a largely starter-reliant squad thus far this year. The bench has proven to be shallow, but the starting unit has been one of the top ranked units in the league. And when the starters struggle, the Kings have very little chance of winning. Unfortunately, thats exactly what happened coming out of the locker room, as the New Orleans Pelicans rode a 31-15 third quarter thumping to win 106 -100.
It's unfortunate because the Kings really came out playing well in the first half. Led by DeMarcus Cousins, Darren Collison, and Jason Thompson, the Kings raced out to an early double digit lead in the first quarter (where does this sound familiar?). Cousins took full advantage of the absence of Omer Asik, ending the game with 24 points, 17 rebounds and 3 assists on 10/18 shooting. Collison led the Kings with 8 assists at halftime, half of their total 16 assists. The ball was moving, the defense was stout, and the Kings were looking at a 9 point lead at the half. Thompson matched Anthony Davis point-for-point in the first quarter, setting a season high in 12 minutes with 12 points.
Sadly, the offense ground to a furious halt in the third quarter, and the defense completely lost track of the Pelicans. Davis continued to hurt the Kings, and while Thompson did a good job slowing down the Pelicans phenom one-on-one, Davis used his athleticism and skills to make an impact, scoring off of lobs, getting steals leading to fastbreaks, and attacking the offensive glass. Davis finished the game with an effortless 28 points and 9 rebounds on 11/19 shooting from the field. During this quarter, Sacramento native Ryan Anderson also came alive. Anderson struggled shooting in the first half, but blasted the Kings after the halftime break, hitting 3/5 three pointers and punishing the Kings' defensive switching scheme which frequently left a smaller guard (usually Collison or Ray McCallum) to guard him in the post. Anderson finished with a cool 22 points on 9/17 shooting (4/12 from three).
In the meantime, the Kings offense completely derailed into a trainwreck One of the main issues was overdribbling around the perimeter. Rudy Gay in particular had a terrible stint, missing shots that are usually money for him around the rim and struggling to get position against the diminutive but stout Eric Gordon. Gay finished the game with 15 points, 4 boards and 3 assists. Ben McLemore royally struggled all game, and while he tried to make some things happen offensively through aggressive takes, simply struggled with his shooting and decision-making. Indeed, the only thing the Kings had going was Cousins, who continually attacked the Pelicans interior, but the Pelicans selectively employed a clever zone that kept Cousins from getting the ball as frequently as he should have.
The Kings' bench could not get the team back on track. McCallum got the nod ahead of Sessions and didn't make an enormous impact in the game. Nik Stauskas hit a couple shots in the first half, but was invisible the rest of the way, getting blocked by Luke Babbit of all players, and notably being unable to corral Gordon in the third quarter. The best play came from Omri Casspi, who scored 13 points on 5/11 shooting from his patented aggression. Casspi was out of control and missing everything early, but late his patented million-miles-per-hour play gave the Kings a shot down the stretch. Unfortunately, the Kings could never quite shut down the Pelicans in crunch time, and a Tyreke Evans dagger over Cousins' outstretched hands finally put it out of reach.
The Kings have major issues they need to address. They still seem unable to consistently break down a zone defense, which causes the offense to revert into overdribbling on the perimeter. The bench still remains an enormous question mark, seemingly unable to neither boost the starters when they struggle nor keep a lead the starters develop. Shooting from the perimeter continues to let the Kings down when they need it most, and although the percentage tonight was decent (4/10 or 40% from three overall), the volume is just too low, and half of those shots came from Collison. The Kings have work to do before a tough opponent in the Bulls roll in on Thursday and then the team heads out for a brutal road trip to end the month.
For the opponent's perspective, visit The Bird Writes