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Kings Defeated by Lillard-less Blazers, Lose 98-94

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Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

The Sacramento Kings squandered an opportunity to see their team officially inside the playoff picture with a disappointing 98-94 loss to the Portland Trailblazers tonight at Sleep Train Arena. That coveted 8th seed would have been more symbolic of how strange the Western Conference has been this season than any proof that the Kings are actually playing good basketball, but having that on the line created a certain ‘big game’ atmosphere, and the Kings just didn’t rise to that occasion.

There is a long list of reasons why the Sacramento Kings should have beat the Trailblazers tonight. We’ll start with the fact that the Kings haven’t played since December 23rd. The Blazers were coming into Sacramento on the second night of a back-to-back, and they were playing without Damian Lillard. I haven’t even touched on the simple fact that the Sacramento Kings have a more talented roster. I’ll stop there.

What might be even more disappointing is that the Kings lost in a completely unspectacular manner. The same issues that have plagued this team all season sunk them again tonight.

They outplayed the Blazers for a lot of the first half, yet poor perimeter defense kept Portland in the game as the Blazers rained down three-pointer after three-pointer after three-pointer throughout the first half. Sound familiar?

When the Kings weren’t running, they weren’t scoring. The game slowed down considerably in the second half, particularly in the fourth quarter, and the half-court offense looked ineffective, to say the least. Forced shots, bad shots, ill-advised passes, you name it, we saw it.

With good crunch time execution, the Kings could have pulled this win out despite not really earning it, but they didn’t do that, either, choosing poor passing and awkward shot selection over purposeful offense. That’s your ball game.

Credit to Deuce Mason for pointing this out on twitter after tonight’s game – The Kings missed 19 of their 22 fourth quarter field goal attempts. Mathematically speaking, you can do worse, but practically speaking, it’s hard to be worse than that.

Notes -

  • CJ McCollum torched the Kings to the tune of 35 points, 11 rebounds, and 9 assists. The same CJ McCollum the Kings passed on to draft Ben McLemore in the 2013 NBA Draft. McCollum was amazing, scoring incredibly difficult pull-up-And-1-transition-jumpers, straight line attacks to the rim over defenders like Kosta Koufos, and he had his moments from three as well. The Kings couldn't stop him, individually or strategically.
  • Rudy Gay struggled big time offensively. I wasn't surprised to see him credited with 14 rebounds, because he was working hard down there on the glass, but the Kings need a lot more than 7 points on 2-12 shooting from him. His shot selection has been a problem in the past, and it was all over the place tonight. On more than three specific occasions he dribbled out of open shot opportunities into much harder contested jumpers. If you watch the Kings, you know what an ugly Rudy Gay performance looks like. This was that.
  • The Kings got very little from there bench tonight. Koufos had a hard time finding his role against the lineups Portland was using when he was out there. Darren Collison never got going. Marco Belinelli was what Marco Belinelli has been all season - wildly inconsistent, and Seth Curry didn't do that much better in his 9 minutes.
  • Rajon Rondo had a really nice first quarter that turned into a decent first half that turned into a below average game by the time this one was over. That's hard to say that when a guy drops 15 dimes, but he had 8 turnovers that could have easily been 10+ had the ball not bounced off a Blazer before heading out of bounds. He also had a few poor passes that led to another player turning the ball over, or taking a difficult shot. His defense on CJ McCollum didn't help, either. The Kings really needed to get better looks in the fourth quarter. Rondo has the ability to do that, it just didn't happen.
  • Correct me if I'm being overly critical, but I even think DeMarcus Cousins could have been better than his monster 36 point performance tonight. Like Rondo, he had turnover and decision making issues, some of which I still blame how the Kings are positioning him on offense, but we've spent so much time talking about it this season that I do not feel compelled to mention it again. He was really good, he could have been even better. That's all. By the way, that should be taken as a complement more than anything else. On paper, this looks like an A level Cousins game, and I just wanted to say that we've seen him play at a much higher level with less impressive statistics.
  • The Kings are in Golden State tomorrow night to face the Warriors, so, yeah. Could have used this one tonight, boys.