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Kings 97, Pelicans 109: Sacramento puts forth an embarrassing effort on the home floor

Kimani Okearah

The Sacramento Kings are the most frustrating team in the NBA.

Coming into tonight, the Kings had a lot of momentum on their side thanks to some solid play in recent weeks.  Just two games back of the 8th seed, the "p-word" was getting thrown around more and more.

So to come out tonight after three full days off since their last action and lay an egg like this is embarrassing.  The final score seems to indicate a game that was much closer than it actually was.  DeMarcus Cousins tried to carry his team to victory in the fourth quarter but it was too little, too late in a game that the Pelicans basically controlled from start to finish.

The New Orleans Pelicans definitely deserve credit for their performance.  They tied a franchise record for threes in game with 16, only turned the ball over 7 times, and got big performances from bench players like Norris Cole, Ryan Anderson and Alonzo Gee.  They're a much better team than their record indicates, especially when they're at near full health.  But this effort by the Sacramento Kings was absolutely unacceptable.  They looked lethargic on both ends of the court for much of the first half of play, settling for too many jumpers and refusing to attack the paint when those jumpers continued to not fall.  Sacramento also allowed the Pelicans to get open looks of their own from outside, a major contributing factor into New Orleans' hot shooting night.  Gary Gerould asked Norris Cole after the game if the amount of threes the Pelicans shot was by design and Cole's answer was simply, "we take what the defense gives us".

There are few, if any, people involved with the Kings that shouldn't be disappointed in their performances tonight.  Willie Cauley-Stein and Seth Curry were bright spots in limited minutes, but most of their minutes came in the fourth quarter with the game already decided.  Coach George Karl made some baffling adjustments throughout the game as he was searching for a lineup that would work.  He inexplicably started Marco Belinelli in the 3rd quarter despite the fact that Belinelli is our worst defensive guard and couldn't buy a bucket tonight (1-6).  Karl continues to complain about the defense in post-game pressers and doesn't give major minutes to players that he has specifically called good defenders like Cauley-Stein and Curry.

Turnovers also killed the Kings, with many being unforced.  Sacramento committed 18 of them on the night, which combined with allowing 13 offensive rebounds resulted in 16 more shot attempts on the night for the Pelicans.  Omer Asik in particular killed the Kings on the boards, grabbing 8 of those offensive boards, with almost all of his own points coming off of second chances.

DeMarcus Cousins had a big game for the Kings with 32 points and 12 rebounds but despite the gaudy stats, I wouldn't call this a good game for Cousins.  Cousins settled far too often for jumpers despite getting consistent success from attacking the basket.  Yes, there were a few non-calls that frustrated both him and the fans, but that was hardly the reason he only got to the line twice (where he went 3-4) all game.  He ended up taking 30 shots, with only Rajon Rondo joining him in double-digit field goal attempts (Rondo was 7-11).  Rudy Gay only shot the ball 9 times in 32 minutes, a disservice to a player that had a clear matchup advantage most of the times he was in the game.  Cousins is a great player but the Kings are at their best when everyone is involved.

One game in January isn't going to decide the rest of this season.  But the effort tonight was inexcusable and a bad sign for anyone hoping that this team might have turned the corner.  Fortunately they'll get a chance to redeem themselves tomorrow, as they head to Utah to take on the Jazz.  The Jazz also got blown out tonight, so both teams will likely be itching to put a bad loss behind them.  Let's hope that the Kings learned their lesson and can scratch out a crucial road win.

For the opponent's perspective, visit The Bird Writes.

Random Observations:

  • The Kings don't have the best defensive personnel but man, oh man does the current defensive system stink.  All the switching causes mismatches and miscommunication all over the place, and other teams are taking advantage of this by creating situations where they have either a favorable matchup or an open shot.  The Kings also overhelp in the paint instead of sticking with their man, something that shouldn't happen so often given that the Kings best defenders are big men.  Ben McLemore is particularly bad at realizing this, as he often comes to help on a posting big man, leaving his man wide open for three.  This directly resulted in two wide open threes for the Pelicans early on in the game.
  • Marco Belinelli is so much worse as a shooter when he's coming off the move and yet the Kings continue to run set plays for him where he's forced to shoot coming off a screen without his feet set.  I'd much prefer to see the Kings utilize Belinelli in catch-and-shoot situations where he's far more effective.
  • Omri Casspi looked pretty rusty, shooting just 1-6 from downtown.
  • I'm not sure what the point of starting Quincy Acy and Ben McLemore is if they're not going to be playing rotation minutes.  I'd rather see those minutes go to players who will be expected to continue playing throughout the game.
  • With the ease that Rajon Rondo was getting to and scoring at the basket, he probably should have looked to seek out his own shot even more
  • Pet Peeve watch: As some long-time readers will know, one of my pet peeves is when someone will come to a Kings game with a jersey of a team that isn't even playing.  Tonight I saw someone in full Warriors gear (by the way, good job on Michael Malone and the Nuggets) as well as a Knicks fan sporting a new Porzingis jersey.