Breaking news: The Sacramento Kings did not go undefeated for the rest of the season. Instead, the winning streak ends with a whimper in the cold, cold winter of the Pacific Northwest. More unfortunately, the Kings fell to the Portland Trailblazers, a direct rival for the 8th playoff spot in the West and who were playing without their best player in Damian Lillard. The Kings lost a game on their competition while also losing the tiebreaker for the season should the teams be tied in April.
The story of the game was the ice cold shooting from the Kings for majority of the night. The Kings ended up shooting 39.2% from the field and 32.1% from three, for a brutal 49.9% teamwise true shooting percentage. The Blazers packed the paint against DeMarcus Cousins (28 points on 8/19 FG, 3/6 3P, 9/10 FT) and nobody else on the Kings could make a three to punish the strategy. Non-Cousins Kings shot 6/25 from three. Not ideal!
In a familiar theme this season, the Kings fell behind to the Blazers early. The defense, with a bumbling Ben McLemore, the ageing Matt Barnes, and the lumbering Kosta Koufos alongside Cousins and Darren Collison, got eviscerated and could not keep up the pace scoring the ball in the other direction. The Blazers’ lead reached a high of 20 points and the Kings looked fairly dead in the water.
Dave Joerger made a wholesale lineup change at halftime, with Garrett Temple, Ty Lawson, and Anthony Tolliver joining Cousins and Barnes at the beginning of the third quarter. This seemed to calm the rotation down a bit; the Kings’ defense finally showed some grit at the outset of the half and continued as Joerger made his substitutions. The Kings held the Blazers to only an 89.7 offensive rating in the second half after letting the Blazers explode for a 125.4 offensive rating in the first half. The Kings chipped away at the Blazers lead, cutting it down to eight in the fourth quarter.
Unfortunately, the offense never did get going. Temple (14 points on 6/13 FG, 2/6 3P) was as good as you could reasonable expect him to be, but Lawson (8 points on 2/8 FG, 1/4 3P, and only 1 assist) and Tolliver (3 points on 1/6 FG, 1/4 3P) were not as sharp as they had been on the winning streak. The guys they replaced in the rotation, McLemore (5 points on 2/9 FG, 0/2 3P) and Collison (2/7 FG, 0/1 3P) never came alive either. The Blazers kept the Kings within a 9 and 11 point deficit until the end of the game.
The Kings now stand at 14-18 on the season and are tied with the Denver Nuggets for the 8th seed. The Blazers are hot on their heels at 14/20 and seem to be righting the ship. The Kings next play against Memphis on Saturday.
- Without Rudy Gay and Arron Afflalo, Barnes is soaking up most of the minutes at small forward and has been all kinds of atrocious. His main value is his knowledge of Joerger’s offense right now; he both finds cutters and cuts smartly himself. Unfortunately, he’s living off of his reputation right now as a defender; when he’s not committing overly hard fouls or getting technicals, he just looks tired on defense. He rotates slowly, his closeouts on shooters are slow, and he doesn’t have the energy to guard the bigger wings and smaller bigs in the paint anymore. He’s also shooting 30% from three for the season.
- Meanwhile, Omri Casspi has been getting scraps of minutes, and despite that he was really good tonight. He defended alright, competed on the glass, and hit his only three pointer. There were moments of fumblitis in there, but it was productive.
- The Willie Cauley-Stein see-saw season continues, and tonight it was bad. He fumbled a couple of passes that if caught cleanly would have been dunks. There was one rebound in particular that he missed that drove Grant Napear crazy on the telecast.
- Meyers Leonard, after losing the battle to Cousins in the last game 55-doughnut, came in determined to make an impact on the stat sheet. He put up 13 shots in only 24 minutes and scored 16 points, while also hitting 3/6 from three.
- Joerger did well in the second half with the rotation, with a small exception: he left a Collison/McLemore/Casspi/Tolliver/Cauley-Stein lineup on the court for about four minutes in the fourth quarter. While that unit competed on defense against the Blazers reserves, they also didn’t make a dent in the lead (which was sitting at 8 points, and when that lineup subbed out had grown back to 12). If Joerger is going to go to that lineup then Lawson has to be in at PG because Collison is not a sufficient enough playmaker against a set defense on pick-and-rolls. At least Lawson has some creative juice, even if his scoring was not there today. It was an important waste of minutes particularly because the Kings had the momentum going into that stretch.
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