As energetic as the Sacramento Kings looked in their last game against the Toronto Raptors, the opposite was true today against the Washington Wizards. The Kings never really did look comfortable, shooting woefully from the field and giving little effort on the defensive end. It seems as though the Kings this season are determined to take a step back after every step forward.
I can't really point to anyone who had a great game tonight. Darren Collison was probably the Kings' best player, scoring 13 points and dishing out 8 assists on 8 shots. DeMarcus Cousins had a woeful night, scoring 22 points but only shooting 8/22 from the field. He made bad decisions with his shot selection all over the court alongside missing a bunch of chippies around the rim. His lack of polish in finishing post moves was on full display. On the other end of the court Marcin Gortat had a monster night with 27 points on only 17 shots. Cousins was slow rotating against Gortat all night long, and while Gortat was hitting some great shots, he wasn't getting much resistance on that end. Just disappointing.
Rajon Rondo and Rudy Gay were both quiet, and neither made any kind of impact defensively. To my eyes they just looked a step slow. There was nowhere near the same level of defensive intensity as we saw last night. The ball pressure was weak, rotations were late or just missed entirely. The Kings got to the rim fairly consistently but often just could not score at times. Ironically, the Kings were able to outrebound the Wizards, but it felt flukey just because the ball was bouncing a certain way.
The Wizards, on the other hand, enjoyed getting and drilling easy shots on a consistent basis. The Kings' defensive strategy in the first half was to zone an extra man in the paint to prevent John Wall's driving game. Unfortunately, this meant a bevy of open three pointers and easy field goal attempts for Gortat. Wall is a phenomenal passer and was able to consistently sniff out the right play to make on his way to a career high 19 assists. The Wizards lit up the scoreboard to the tune of 63 first half points, shooting 57% from the field and 60% from three. In the second half the Kings reverted to more traditional defensive concepts and did a better job in the third quarter. But by the time the fourth quarter rolled around, the Kings offense simply died, and the Kings players visibly gave up after falling behind by 11 with about 5 minutes to go in the game.
Some quick observations:
- I don't know why the Kings look so sluggish on some back-to-backs. I'm starting to wonder if its a conditioning issue, with the Kings playing at one of the fastest paces in the league. This reminded me of the Mexico City game where it felt like the whole team was three steps slower than usual. Its not just Cousins either, the whole team just looked tired.
- George Karl went deeper and deeper into his bench tonight, summoning up Caron Butler from the shadow realm out of nowhere when Omri Casspi ran into some foul trouble in the first quarter. Seth Curry also got a quick look, but unfortunately was usually playing in a three guard lineup that has been rather disastrous this year. Butler played pretty well in his stint, but Curry looked overwhelmed.
- Marco Belinelli found his shooting touch tonight, scoring 15 points and hitting 3 three pointers. It was good to see him get his offense back on track. His defense still remains an issue because he's so dang slow, but Karl has to find the right combinations that will be able to hide him defensively.
- Speaking of that... Karl has done a horrible job finding lineups that Belinelli can play on. Often times we see Belinelli as the small forward in three guard lineups, next to Rajon Rondo and Darren Collison. You cringe when it comes on, especially when Karl also decides to go small at the PF position. Tonight we even saw Curry next to Belinelli and Rondo, with Casspi playing the four, practically asking to get bulldozed on the defensive end. Karl should avoid playing Belinelli in three guard lineups, opting for Ben McLemore instead. Ben is better equipped to defend bigger opposing bench wings because of his athleticism. Belinelli should play exclusively at SG.
- The bench might have problems if an opponent goes super small at Center. Tonight, with Kosta Koufos in the game, the Wizards trotted out Kris Humphries at center. Koufos didn't do that much damage offensively to punish the decision, and defensively he was a fish out of water trying to chase Humphries on the wing. Humprhies scored 15 points in 16 minutes.