This was really two games somehow mashed together into one. The Sacramento Kings played two halves of basketball against the Los Angeles Lakers, but the two barely resembled eachother. They might as well have been different sports.
In the first half, it was the DeMarcus Cousins show. He scored 22 of his 29 points from all over the court; the post, three pointers, alley-oops, you name it. But the Kings were pushing the pace and scoring so easily they built a 20+ point lead without really even trying that hard. It was clear that they were coasting a bit on defense, but it simply didn't matter. Meanwhile, the Lakers became the L.A. Kobes one last time. Bryant had a vintage half with 18 points scoring in all the same ways he's tortured Kings fans with in the past. Honestly, the game was a circus. The Kings were massacring the Lakers without so much as breaking a sweat, but Kobe's performance kept his farewell narrative machine churning.
The second half largely had to do with the absence of Cousins. Boogie picked up his fifth foul with 5 minutes to go in the third quarter with the Kings holding a cool 25 point lead. From that point on, the Lakers' guard trio of D'Angelo Russell, Jordan Clarkson, and Lou Williams took the game over. The Kings reserve guards of Darren Collison and Marco Belinelli were utterly annihilated tonight. Not only did they fail to defend, the offense simply died without Boogie on the court. By the time Cousins checked back in, the lead was down to 9.
Unfortunately, the Kings' defensive scheme's weaknesses were on full display tonight. They still are all to content with giving up the midrange without any resistance at all, a fact that both Russell and Clarkson in particular feasted on. They don't bother using ICE defense at all to force pick-and-rolls to go baseline; if an offense wants, the Kings will roll out the red carpet for guards to waltz right into the middle of the lane and collapse the defense. The Kings are still too content with allowing bad defensive matchups dictate the game, such as having Belinelli the speedy Lou Williams. There doesn't appear to be any desire from the coaching staff to fix the broken scheme.
Down the stretch, Rajon Rondo and Cousins stabilized the Kings just enough to squeak by with victory. The execution was shaky, but they ran plays through Cousins in the post and were able to manufacture just enough points. Rondo hit a big floater to put the Kings up for good and poked the ball loose from Clarkson to hold the Lakers at bay. Boogie sealed the deal with two clutch free throws.
Basically, I can't wait to forget about this game. Not only was Sleep Train Arena packed with Laker fans, but choking away a 27 point lead on National T.V. to the Lakers is an embarrassment of the highest order. The Kings next play the Warriors on Saturday and then get a four day break before taking on the Pelicans. Onto some observations!
- I like the new sets the Kings are running on that end because they provide the team with some much-needed structure, but they still need to pick and choose to use them more strategically. There's no way a frontcourt of Brandon Bass and Julius Randle should be able to exist on the same court as DeMarcus Cousins. The Kings should have ran it through Boogie every time, because they got great looks whenever they did.
- Again, how bad is this team without DeMarcus Cousins? They are 1-8 on the season (or something like that) without him, and were -12 with him sitting on the bench. No matter how much things change, it seems like the Kings' dependence on Boogie is the one constant.
- Rudy Gay's three point shot has vanished. He's shooting 32% from three for the season and was 1/6 from long range tonight. The Kings aren't getting the benefit of spacing with him manning the PF position if he can't hit those shots consistently. He also was a nonfactor on the glass, and in the fourth quarter the Kings were outrebounded on his watch at the 4 spot.
- Ben McLemore had a weird game. On one hand, he was active and involved on his way to his highest point total in seemingly ages, mostly by cutting without the ball and leaking out in transition. On the other, he could not hit a jumper from any range, whether it was a three or a midrange two. He also had one of those "smh Ben" moments when he tripped over his own feet trying to do something on a fastbreak.
- Seth Curry had a poor game, but I feel like it looked worse than it really was. He didn't get many offensive touches, but when he did it was in a pretty unenviable position, whether its in the paint surrounded by defenders or trying to create something from scratch at the end of the shot clock. Boogie did miss him once for an easy layup when they ran their Princeton corner set. On defense, he got roasted by Clarkson once, but I thought he slipped on a wet spot on the floor. I still like his defensive intensity and offensively he'll do better than this more often than not.
- Darren Collison had one miserable game. He made terrible decisions all night long, whether it was turning the ball over, poor defense, or passing up open shots to dribble around and bog down the offense. The Kings need more from him and he's perfectly capable of providing it.