The Sacramento Kings are what they are at this point of the season – a team of players with some talent who may not fit together so well trying to operate in George Karl's system that may not fit those players who are not fitting together so well.
You see the glimpses of promise, whether it is a good quarter of basketball or a deceptive winning streak. As the door closed on the team's latest shot at it's 25th win in three tries (they were 20-23 on Jan. 23 and now sit at 24-34) Tuesday against the Oklahoma City Thunder, the door also shut just a little bit more on the anti climatic race for the 8th seed in the Western Conference.
But, of course, it is still slightly open.
The Kings are four games behind the current prizewinner Houston Rockets and 3.5 games behind the Utah Jazz. They are also only ahead of the New Orleans Pelicans by one game and ahead of the Denver Nuggets by two games. So yes, the standings are depressing, but are also telling you there is a chance. The problem is that there weren't any drastic changes to how this team functions coming out of All Star break. The players and coaches (talk amongst yourselves) aren't getting the job done on the defensive end and the lapses in play that the team can't pull itself out of are still prevalent.
Omri Casspi is a fan favorite in Sacramento because of his passion for the city and the emotional way he plays the game, so it is never a surprise that he sometimes looks like a disgruntled fan after losses. And he did on Monday night, declaring that the team doesn't deserve to make the playoffs right now. It is difficult to disagree with him. Casspi did acknowledge the opportunity, however.
"I don't remember a year in the west, not in my seven years that the west was so wide open to get in," Casspi said. "Teams are losing and there's opportunities, but our schedule is going to be a lot easier after this tough stretch that we have."
After this brutal road trip coming up that features Memphis, Dallas, San Antonio and New Orleans, the Kings are welcomed home by Cleveland, but then get Orlando, Utah, the Los Angeles Lakers, New Orleans, Detroit and the Knicks. But to get there they have to get through this road trip still somewhat breathing.
Rajon Rondo, who disagreed with Casspi about the Kings not being worthy of the playoffs, mentioned something that is somewhat of a concern: The Kings need to start playing with a sense of urgency.
"We can control what we control and that's our own destiny, so we have to find a way, we have to continue, well not continue, we have to start to play with a sense of urgency. We have a lot of games left, anything can happen," Rondo said.
The Kings have had the opportunity for the 8th seed in front of them for a few months now, and regardless; the franchise hasn't made it to the playoffs in 10 years so a sense of urgency could have been called for in October.
Urgency is one thing. Defense is another and the players pointed out Monday that it remains a problem.
"Defense. We can score with the best of them, but we can't really get stops," said Casspi when asked what he thinks a playoff team consists of.
DeMarcus Cousins agreed, saying consistency on the defensive end is what the Kings need to focus on to turn this season around. Since the All-Star break, the Kings have stopped allowing their opponents to score 30 points with ease (only one team has done so) and Quincy Acy has provided a decent spark on that side of the ball, but the team is still giving up 115 points per game over the last five games as their opponents pick them apart with ease. Following the loss to the Thunder, Karl, who vowed to try to get a better defensive performance out of his team after the All Star break, brought up "emotional" and "physical" breakdowns when talking about the Kings play as of late.
"There's no question when we get whatever, the black hole, or the emotional breakdown, or the physical breakdown, we give in a little bit, probably too much right now," Karl said.
Many have spent this whole season debating why the Kings are not coming together, whether it is scheme, effort, substitution patters, defense, Cousins not staying in the post enough - and nobody is wrong because the list is like trying to stop a wall with 20 leaks in different spots with only two hands.
Even so, the first-round dance with the Golden State Warriors is still a possibility and Cousins remains optimistic.
"I'm still confident we can turn things around, still a lot of time, a lot of games left. The way this season is going anything can happen so stay positive and get ready for the next game," Cousins said.
On to Memphis.