In what has become so predictable it has become a cliché, the Sacramento Kings were in a highly generous mood Monday night. Facing a Portland Trail Blazers squad that lost LaMarcus Aldridge to a hand injury early (get well soon big fella!) while also seeing their terrific guard duo of Damian Lillard and Wesley Matthews shoot a combined 13/49 from the field, the tables were set for an upset on the road. The Kings just said "nah", handing it to the Blazers who were able to scrape out a 98-94 win.
I mean "handing it" that in the most literal way possible. The Kings were pioneers in finding new ways to turn the ball over, racking up 23 total at the end of the game. Five second violations. Offensive fouls. Losing rebounds. Forcing the issue in transition by horrific outlet passes and one-on-four forces off the dribble. Telegraphed passes that would make Colin Kaepernick jealous. Over and over again, the Blazers were able to harness a Kings offense that otherwise was shooting decently simply because they could not make basic basketball plays. To be fair, the Blazers were very aggressive reaching for the ball on drives, which exploited DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay's worst tendencies; the duo ended with five and six turnovers respectively. But there is no excuse for the mindnumbing sloppiness we saw, and with Darren Collison coughing it up five times himself, thats an entire team's worth of turnovers from three guys
The shooting numbers weren't mindblowing, but were decent enough. Rudy Gay in particular was able to get to his spots repeatedly, scoring 26 points on 19 shots. Cousins put up monster numbers, but was again relatively inefficient from the field, only hitting 7/17 shots on his way to 22 points and 19 rebounds. Cousins was also a major force defensively, blocking four shots and altering many others. Collison also was solid, scoring 13 points on 11 shots and adding 8 assists. The Kings also unveiled a slick-looking HORNS set that utilizes Collison, Gay and Cousins all at the same time; they used it often to get Gay good position in midrange against a smaller defender.
Anchored by Cousins in the paint, the Kings' defense was generally pretty good. With Aldridge out of the game, the Blazers could not get anyone going offensively. Collison defended Lillard pretty well and Matthews had Ben McLemore and other bigger defenders in his grill all night, who he has historically struggled against. The Blazers shot 39.8% from the field and only 30.6% from three.
All of which makes it more infuriating that the Kings executed so sloppily down the stretch. The Kings' late game offense after losing Cousins was not only predictable, it was easily defended. With 1:20 to go down by two, the Kings had five remaining possessions left in the game. Three of them were Gay isolations on the right elbow without any kind of off-ball movement or misdirection; the results were a turnover, two free throws, and a missed midrange two. One was a play for McLemore, who got fouled shooting a three. The last was...well I don't even know who that play was for, but it resulted in Collison turning the ball over. Safe to say that late-game execution and decision-making is sorely lacking at the moment.
Regardless, the Kings now fall to 16-25 on the season. At this point last season the team was 15-27, which is an improvement but disappointing given the Kings' promising start. It'll be interesting to see if the Kings fall hard enough to keep their lottery pick seeing as how playoffs are beyond a pipe-dream at this point. All-in-all, looks like another season of "wait until next year" for Kings fans.
For the opponent's perspective, visit Blazer's Edge