Basketball pride or a lack thereof is something we have heard before this season and it's a phrase that should be repeated after the Sacramento Kings lost to the two-win Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday. Following a lackadaisical loss to the Portland Trailblazers (without Damian Lillard) at home on Friday and a few days of turmoil centered on DeMarcus Cousins, the Kings laid an egg in front of the home crowd.
Where is the pride?
An 8th seed is on the line in the Western Conference. The playoffs are a possibility for Sacramento for the first time in a decade. But facing what is considered to be the worst team in the NBA, the Kings came out with no focus and what seemed to be little interest in winning.
The 76ers are young and athletic and the Kings have had difficulty against such teams, but they made Sacramento look old and completely out of sync and that is a problem. To top it off, the Sixers, which average a league-worst 92 points per game, wracked up 110 points with 50 coming in the paint.
Marco Belinelli tried to fight back with 28 points of his own on 11-17 shooting, but outside of his shots coming off curls the Kings offense was largely centered on trying to get to the foul line - and they did to the tune of 41 attempts. The problem was they only made 25 of those. Cousins tallied 21 points, largely from 13 made shots at the free throw line, but left the floor when he fouled out late in the fourth quarter as the Kings were trying to climb out of the suffocating assault put on by the low-powered 76ers offense.
The Kings had no answer for Ish Smith, who had 18 points and 9 assists. Smith consistently sliced through the Kings perimeter and interior defense. Nerlens Noel added 20 points and 9 rebounds and Jerami Grant totaled a double-double with 16 points and 11 rebounds. For the Kings, despite Rajon Rondo getting 14 assists, he looked out of sorts trying to lead an offense that often stood staring at him dribbling. He also turned the ball over seven times. Omri Casspi's shot cooled off (3-10 from the field) and Rudy Gay had an off night with 9 points. Kosta Koufos came in and provided some stout defensive stops and a few nice skyhooks and Ben McLemore had a decent first half, but outside of that there wasn't much happening as a cohesive unit for the Kings on either side of the ball. And it isn't the stats that are the most concerning (and I forgot to mention the 22 turnovers and allowing the 76ers to win the offensive boards battle 16-7), it is the willingness to let a team with two wins come into Sleep Train Arena after two frustrating losses (granted one of those came against the Golden State Warriors), show a complete lack of fire and hand that team its third win.
An arena full of fans expecting a win watched a team who also expected a win. Overlooking teams with lesser records has been a consistent problem all season for the Kings. They seem to expect to win from the start due to a sort of self-assumed ability to over-talent their opponent, which typically results in a loss. And then after the game, the players admit they overlooked said team. And then repeat.
Following the loss to the 76ers, head coach George Karl referred to his team as being the "quiet" or "soft" or "cool" team too often. This is true, but it is up to the folks in the coaching staff, locker room and front office to figure out why that is. Talking about playing better defense, playing together and not overlooking teams is just talk. It's time for the Kings to start doing.
This is one of the best teams on paper Sacramento has had in a decade, but there is something broken internally that isn't working itself out - as Cousins said, there is a dark cloud over the team. Players meetings, player-coach-front office meetings and deceptive three-game win streaks aren't stopping the Kings from being a complete Jekyll-and-Hyde team.
Figuring out how to win with a new team under systems that are not conducive to the roster is a challenge. But there should always be a fire to win and a passion that has been alarmingly absent from this squad, aside from Omri Casspi, Kosta Koufos and Quincy Acy, who seem to always leave it all out on the floor. This is even more curious due to the fact that this version of the Kings has more decorated veterans than in the past.
Something has been lost and something has to give. Maybe it is buy-in. Whatever the reason, this city fought for this team and a new arena opens next season.
The slogan for the Kings this season is "Sacramento Proud." The fans want to see more pride out of their team.