Lets be honest: the Sacramento Kings probably lost this game the moment that last night's game against the Charlotte Hornets went to double overtime. As a team that already struggles on back-to-backs (now 2-10 after today's loss), losing Rudy Gay to a nasty eye poke and playing extra minutes was something that this team in its current form just couldn't overcome. To be fair, the Kings didn't just lay down and die; they did scrap and claw through about halfway through the third. But a slew of corner three pointers effectively ended whatever competitive resistance the Kings had left.
Rajon Rondo started this game as aggressive as I can remember looking for his shot. Repeatedly getting into the paint against the Blazers' lacking guard defense, he scored 12 points and also notched 6 assists in the first quarter. Really, the only reason this game was competitive was because Rondo was going full throttle and basically dragging the Kings with him. Rondo ended the game with 15 points and 11 assists.
Willie Cauley-Stein also burst out of the gate with pure youthful exuberance. Willie showed almost zero effects of fatigue, flying around the court swatting shots and finishing soaring lobs. He even smoothly knocked down both of his free throws. He's really blossoming before his eyes, and although he's still kind of unrefined around the edges, he's already probably the most impactful defender the Kings have.
On the other hand, DeMarcus Cousins had a decidedly less effective outing than his last. Coming off a 56 point outburst, Boogie had nothing left in the tank for tonight. He scored 17 points on 21 shots, and most of it was a horrible slugfest. He couldn't hit any of his customary shots around the rim, allowing flying Blazer help defenders to affect him more than usual. The cherry on top were his struggles from the free throw line; he made only 9/17 his free throws, and most of them barely made it to the rim. Boogie deserves a day off after carrying this team on his back the whole month.
I may sound like a broken record, but the Kings defense is still so sadly flawed, they didn't have a snowball's chance in hell in stopping the high-octane Blazers offense tonight. They are still content to give up mismatches by switching, they still fall into soft zones giving up easy shots without any defensive pressure, and they don't bother trying to keep guards out of the middle of the lane. Tonight, it was the Blazers bigs Mason Plumlee, Noah Vonleh, Meyers Leonard, and Ed Davis destroying the Kings in the paint, getting fed from the guard duo of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum (18 combined assists between the two). They had no answer for wings like Gerald Henderson and Allen Crabbe filling the corners getting open threes and filling the gaps. These schematic flaws have been present all year and are not going away.
Ultimately, this is a scheduled loss that's hard to get worked up about. The defensive problems the Kings showed have become a part of their identity now, so it would be more like a pleasant surprise if they didn't persist even when they're fresh, let alone when they're exhausted. Onto the observations!
- Finally, Marco Belinelli somewhat sputtered to life. He scored 14 points including 2/4 from three, although one of them was one of those one-legged wild flailing chucks off the dribble. One thing I notice about Marco is that whether he's off-the-ball or on it, he is too slow to get any kind of meaningful separation from his defender. Defenses are usually in position to contest his shots, regardless of how many screens he tries to run through. It also becomes a problem in dribble-drive sets, bogging down the offense when he can't beat his man off the dribble off of a dribble-pitch.
- Meanwhile, Seth Curry had a solid showing in garbage time. Its garbage time, but still. Just saying
- Ben McLemore continues to struggle. He missed an open three, an open layup, and both of his free throws. In other news, James Anderson is still James Anderson. The Kings are starving for some consistent SG play.
- The Kings are crazy reliant on their Rondo/Cousins/Gay trio. Without Rudy, the team's rotations become all messed up, and the bench struggles to produce. Having Rondo on the court gives the team direction and structure, and Boogie is Boogie. The team seems to miss a huge part of their identity every time one of them either misses a game or is sitting on the bench.
- The Blazers social media team has quite the scandal on their hands after this tweet making fun of a play where Cousins and Rondo collided and both were slow to get up.