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Kings 116, Nuggets 110: Effort anyone?

The Kings put their heart and soul into this one and were rewarded with a win.

Kimani Okearah

Its been a loooong All-Star break. It felt like an eternity ago that the Sacramento Kings last saw any game action. With rumors swirling around George Karl and the trade deadline, there was no way of knowing how the players were going to react. Well, the Kings certainly answered that question emphatically. There can be no complaints about the effort last night; the entire team looked like it took a dose of adderall for the game. Rajon Rondo, Ben McLemore and Darren Collison picked up guards full court. DeMarcus Cousins ran up and down the court swatting shots.

The game started with the Kings on fire. Rudy Gay and Rondo combined to hit six threes in the first half (with Rondo knocking down four of them himself). DeMarcus Cousins King Kong'd the Nuggets in the post, who were forced to guard him with the small but bouncy Kenneth Faried. It did not go well for poor Faried, as Cousins erupted for 24 first half points on his way to a 37 point night. The Kings built a comfortable cushion that hovered between 8-13 points for most of the game.

The second half slowed down and the Kings' enthusiasm noticeably wavered. Give credit to Michael Malone's Nuggets, who never quit on the game, and just kept plugging away. They were able to slice the lead down to five points in the final minute, but simply ran out of time. They tried to hack Rondo, but Rondo was making his free throws.

As for scheme changes? Ehhh, not feeling it. Defensively, the Kings seemed more reluctant to go into their zone, staying as long in man-to-man as possible, leading to less lazy-looking switching and defenders hovering out in open space. There was an emphasis on getting more defensive pressure on the ball, which I liked. But they were still defending the screen-and-roll the same way, still not focused on protecting against penetration in the middle of the paint. That scheme still has big pockets that can be exploited, and were exploited from time to time.

But ultimately, I think the zone schemes worked against the Nuggets. The Nuggets don't really have the type of offensive weapons who can exploit it beyond Danilo Gallinari and Joffrey Lauvergne (both of whom predictably went off against the Kings, and look, yet another career high!). The Nuggets scored 110 points, but it was a very high-paced game, so their pace-adjusted offensive rating was only 99.6, three points fewer than their season-long offensive rating 102.1. The Nuggets didn't have the shooters or the passers needed to exploit the zone. It was particularly funny to watch Emmanuel Mudiay try to operate against the Kings defense, who basically didn't bother to have anybody within ten feet of him when he was in the midrange area. A better shooting team would have ripped the Kings defense apart tonight (again, despite the good effort) but for this situation the scheme did its job.

Ultimately, its clear that this roster has not quit on this season just yet. They are still being good sports trying to make what Karl is selling them work. The playoffs look far in the distance, but I think Kings fans can be satisfied with a team that fights down the stretch. At the very least, its not going to be a repeat of the soulless Ty Corbin era. Onto the observations!

  • Michael Malone REALLY wanted to win this game. He was hot all game long, picking up a technical foul, pacing the sidelines, and was expressive as ever. And this even beyond the usual passionate Malone coaching from the sidelines.
  • James Anderson is horrible. And for those of you for whom it matters, he had a +/- of zero, the worst on the team. Don't read too much into it.
  • Kings were ridiculously hot from three in the first half, shooting TEN OF THIRTEEN. Predictably, this would not last. They didn't connect on a single three point attempt in the second.
  • The Kings were so amped up to start this game they nearly started a fight. Game got chippy early between Rondo and Jokic.
  • This was pretty ridiculous pass from Rondo
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