The Sacramento Kings are finally home after the longest road trip in franchise history, but the NBA schedulers did them no favors by lining up the Eastern Conference-leading Atlanta Hawks as their first test at home. The shorthanded Kings were scrappy all night long, overcoming a 13 point third quarter deficit to cut the lead to one in the fourth, but were ultimately closed out by the Hawks 110-103.
Today, a balanced attack helped the Kings stay with the Hawks. DeMarcus Cousins' 20 points, 13 rebounds and 5 assists helped pace six Kings in double-digits in scoring. Cousins didn't have the most efficient night, seeing several shots around the rim pop out, as the Hawks have some solid disciplined interior defenders even with Al Horford out tonight. The bench was tremendous, especially Jason Thompson. JT scored 18 points on only 7 shots and played some solid defense. Andre Miller also played his best game as a King so far, scoring 16 points and dishing 7 assists on 7 shots. The Kings overall shot 46.9% from the field and 35% from three, with 23 assists.
A couple weakpoints are still quite glaring. With some time to get some practice in, the defense was much better than what we were seeing over the course of the road trip, but still was not good enough. The Hawks repeatedly were able to collapse the defense and get open threes, both because of defensive confusion and lazy closeouts. Even without ace shooter Kyle Korver, the Hawks were able to make 12 threes shooting at a 38.7% clip. The Hawks do a great job sharing the basketball, and their disciplined attack again resulted in 25 assists to 12 turnovers.
The other main problem is the turnovers. The Kings had 20 on the night, an unforgivable number if you want to compete with an elite team like the Hawks. Majority were the result of awful decisionmaking. Cousins and Miller with the biggest offenders by far, each committing five, and they came all over the place. Cousins' passing ability is both a blessing and a curse; he often goes for the home run highlight-reel pass and the shoddy decisionmaking costs the team in several occasions. Miller, being a veteran, really should know better than to throw some of the passes that he does. His assist to turnover ratio was not good tonight. Omri Casspi was also notably bad, notching three turnovers forcing the issue time and again with some shaky dribbling and forcing.
That being said, its hard to be upset with this loss. The Kings had a chance to win down the stretch, but the Hawks are just a well-oiled machine at this point and out-executed the Kings when they needed to. There is a lot of cleanup that needs to be done by George Karl, but now with a lengthy homestand on the horizon, he finally will get some decent practice time to hopefully streamline his system.
- The Kings got some good performances across the board tonight. Casspi and Ray McCallum stood out as roleplayers stepping up when the Kings needed them. Ray Mac's jumper was sweet tonight, which is going to be huge for his development going forward. If he can become a consistent shooter, he can be a really solid backup point guard for a long time in this league. He already plays solid defense and his feel for the position is improving every game.
- The Kings broadcast talked a lot about how well Derrick Williams has played recently, so of course Williams would come out and lay a stinky egg tonight. DWill was shut out, missing everything from the field and playing such atrocious defense that Karl just could not leave him out on the court. He did hit the glass pretty well tonight, so there's something.
- DeMarcus Cousins needs to lay off the referees for a while. He picked up another technical foul today, which makes five in the last fourteen games alone. He was in the ear of the refs all night, which is irritating to everyone, friend and foe alike.
- Ben McLemore did a great job finishing around the rim today. Its been a problem for him where unassisted he has trouble finishing in the paint, but today he was creating for himself really nicely up and around Hawk defenders. Ben's jumper was off today, so its great to see him continue to score even when he's not hot. Its these kind of "in-between" games that he needs to have because lately it seems like he's either scoring 20+ or not contributing at all.
- George Karl appears to be getting less patient with terrible play defensively. McLemore and Williams were both given notably quick hooks because of atrocious stretches of play. It should help keep the team more accountable, but I would love to see what happens when its, say, Rudy Gay, who hasn't been playing good defense all year long, is the one loafing around.