After a three game win streak at home, there was hope that the Kings could begin to make up some ground in the standings, and a good start to this road trip would have made for some nice momentum. Everything was set up for the Kings to be successful on Friday night, with the Kings coming off a nice break, the team welcoming back Rajon Rondo, and an opponent in the Minnesota Timberwolves that hasn't performed great at home.
Instead the Kings came out of the gates with little energy and never fully developed a rhythm. DeMarcus Cousins in particular struggled early, forcing the issue, before finally settling down as the game went on. Defensively, the Kings had no answer for Andrew Wiggins, who scored a game-high 32 points to go with 10 rebounds and 6 assists. Sacramento allowed the Timberwolves to shoot over 50% for much of the game until a fourth quarter that saw both teams struggle to make baskets (the 4th quarter score was 4-2 with about 5 minutes left in the game). Combined with Sacramento's inability to get a rebound (Minnesota outrebounded the Kings by 19), the Kings just couldn't get enough stops to overtake the Wolves and close the game out.
Sacramento did a good job of coming back and taking the lead in this game, but they also squandered a lot of opportunities. They only ever managed to grab the lead for a moment with about two minutes left, but they failed to hold onto it, and some of the late game execution was questionable, such as decisions to wait so long to foul Timberwolves, or to give the ball to Rajon Rondo in a situation where the Wolves were up by three (the Wolves smartly fouled Rondo, a poor FT shooter, with the added bonus of preventing the Kings from shooting a three). Rondo was able to knock down the first free throw, but the Kings weren't able to grab the rebound off the intentional miss, and thus began what could be a disastrous road trip considering this was supposed to be the easiest game of the four.
Minnesota excelled at utilizing off ball movement and backdoor cuts to get easy buckets right at the rim, making mincemeat of an already unimpressive Sacramento defense. Too often, Sacramento's guards overhelped on defense (especially Marco Belinelli), allowing the Timberwolves to get good looks at the basket with open shots. This Kings team has made some progress on defense recently, but they're still far from good on that end of the floor and I don't see how they can be successful if they don't figure out a way to lock it down consistently. I don't even think it's a matter of effort, I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that the Kings just don't have the right personnel to have a good defensive team right now. If the Kings do make any moves by the trade deadline, I think the most critical need is upgrading the defense, particularly on the perimeter as Sacramento's big men are actually doing a pretty good job on that end.
The Kings now have a slate of three road games against good Eastern Conference teams, starting on Sunday in Toronto. Before the road trip had started, I had hoped the Kings could at least pull out two wins before coming home. Now I'm just hoping for one. That's the problem with being a Kings fan sometimes; You constantly have to lower your expectations.
- Marco Belinelli has some fun moments but overall he has not been a great player for the Kings this year. He's not shooting the ball all that consistently, and I particularly don't like it when the Kings try to have him create his own offense. Defensively he's a big negative, never seeming to understand when to help and when not to help. That's pretty much up to my expectations on that end of the floor, but I had hoped for more consistency offensively.
- I hate when guys pump fake open shots and then take one or two dribbles to then take a contested jumper instead. Rondo did this late in the game when he got a shot in the corner, but instead opted to fake and shoot off the dribble.
- Karl-Anthony Towns really impressed me. He played solid defense on DeMarcus at points and he also showed off some nice post-moves and a feathery jumper. The Wolves have a very scary talent base, especially if guys like Gorgui Dieng, Zach LaVine and Shabazz Muhammad can turn into versatile roleplayers.
- The Kings seem to be overly reliant on trying to create steals on the defensive end. Rondo in particular gambles a lot, and Cousins goes to the slap down move a lot. It worked to a point tonight, but at some point the Kings just need to stay in front of their man and make shots tough.