Again and again, there is one pervasive theme of this Sacramento Kings season: pure and utter strangeness. Today, following a weekend of speculation regarding the future of George Karl, there was no way to know what to expect. How would the players respond? What, if any, changes were we going to see in the schemes the team was in? With the league-worst Philadelphia 76ers as the next opponent, were the embarrassments about to get worse?
At the beginning, not much looked like it had changed. The Kings rolled out the same flawed and pathetic defensive scheme that's surely the laughingstock of the NBA, and the Sixers had no issues taking full advantage. Jahlil Okafor flexed his muscle in the post against all comers, be it DeMarcus Cousins or Kosta Koufos. Robert Covington was bombing away from deep on his way to a (shocker) career night. The Sixers dropped 30 points in the first quarter, and 34 in the second, building a double-digit lead that would reach as high as 17 points. Looks like the Kings were going to hit a new low.
And then something strange happened in the second half. Karl inserted Quincy Acy for Willie Cauley-Stein (who looked like he may have hurt his shoulder) and James Anderson for Marco Belinelli. Acy brought an exuberance to the team that has been lacking for some time, an intangible injection of positivity that helped ward off the cloud of negativity that seemingly hung over everything the team did. Cousins began to get rolling attacking the soft center of the Sixers defense. And Darren Collison absolutely caught fire, erupting for 21 points in the second half. Collison has been brilliant off the bench lately.
As for the Sixers? They showed why they're still at the bottom of the NBA standings. Brett Brown is a solid coach, and Mike D'Antoni's presence on the bench has really showed in the creative sets that they run. But the Sixers just don't execute with discipline when they need to. They had 13 turnovers in the second half, which is basically the lifeblood of the Kings offense. Covington and Okafor had 5 turnovers each in the half, overcomplicating a situation where they could have simply taken advantage of the planet-sized holes in the Kings defense. Down the stretch, their defense completely collapsed, as the Kings stormed back on the back of a 39 point fourth quarter. If this was a tank job it was a damn impressive one.
The question remains for the Kings: where do they go from here? There still seems to be major dysfunction at the top of the organization and the team seems to be stuck in neutral as a consequence. It doesn't look like the players have quit on eachother; the guys on the bench were still whooping and cheering, depicted beautifully after Acy's huge block in the fourth. But as long as Karl is here, the defense hasn't changed. The Sixers, 26th in the NBA in 3P% at 33% making 8.5 per game, once again lit it up with 15 made threes at 44%. As mentioned before, Covington joins the ballooning ranks of NBA players racking up a career high in points against the Kings and also nailed a career high seven threes. The defensive system is awful and, winning aside, a night where they gave up 110 points to the Sixers doesn't change anything.
With their playoff "run" on life support, the Kings now get some time off for the All-Star break to recharge and reload. Or not. Maybe Karl looks at the film and changes the defense at the behest of Vlade Divac, who has . Maybe he's gone after all. Honestly, who knows at this point. This is a return to the Ty Corbin era of last year, a franchise in transition leaving its players and fans in limbo and with no clue whats going to happen next. This is not the mark of a competent franchise.
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