The Sacramento Kings went full KANGZ tonight. Playing a Miami Heat team completely decimated by injuries that was on the second night of a back-to-back, the Kings still were outhustled and outworked in every facet of the game, and come out with one of the ugliest losses of the year.
DeMarcus Cousins was atrocious. He simply didn’t look like he wanted to play today. The Heat played small out of necessity and physically mauled him in the post. His jumper was off and he got nothing going driving the ball. The Kings could not throw a proper entry pass to get him good looks in the paint against small defenders. His screens didn’t create enough separation. And his frustration carried over into his defense; he was a step slow on rotations, didn’t rebound, and fouled too much. His team-worst -27 was well-earned. Darren Collison (10 points on 11 shots) was invisible for most of the night as well, showing again that he’s just not up to the task to be the starting unit’s second option.
For the Kings, while the starters were getting their behinds kicked, it was again up to the bench crew to step up. Ty Lawson, Garrett Temple, and Arron Afflalo (15 points each) led the charge, playing with great energy on defense and executing well on offense. Kosta Koufos stepped up and did all of the little things, playing good defense, setting great screens, and moving the ball. Anthony Tolliver (14 points) had his best game of the season, showing off a versatile floor game I had no idea he had. He drove into the lane and finished with athletic moves, even flashing a smooth looking jump hook.
On Miami’s side, Tyler Johnson continued his complete ownership of the Sacramento Kings by scoring 23 points on only 11 shots. But most stark was the energy and fury he played with, getting into the thick of the paint for rebounds, and erasing a handful of Kings fast breaks.
The story of the game was basically Miami’s hot shooting in the first half. In the first quarter, the Kings’ defense was awful because they failed to close out space on shooters. In the second quarter, things started getting a little flukey as even contested three point shots were going in at a high rate. But that’s what happens when you let an opponent get comfortable. The Kings kept up by scoring at a high rate themselves, but found themselves trailing 64-59 at half.
Dave Joerger started the second half with Tolliver and Afflalo next to Cousins, Collison, and Matt Barnes to try and give the Kings a lift. That didn’t stop the Kings’ offense from completely dying third quarter as they unsuccessfully tried to ride the Cousins train, which was derailed for the night. The Heat built up a 19 point lead at 87-68 after Joerger went ballistic and got a technical foul, but that seemed to wake the team up. Lawson and Temple got hot, Koufos replaced Cousins in the lineup, and the Kings finally locked down the Heat on defense. The Kings ripped off a nutty 19-0 run to tie the game up at 87, and it was back-and-forth from then out.
With the Kings up 91-89, Joerger went back to Cousins and Barnes for Koufos and Tolliver. The Kings’ offense died once again, as it seemed Lawson and Afflalo ran out of gas after playing for a long stretch straight. The Kings trailed 102-97 as Joerger called a timeout. Then, it looked like Boogie had found a second wind; he found Lawson for a cutting layup, played solid defense forcing back-to-back turnovers out of pick-and-roll by Goran Dragic, and finally got a foul call his way. The Kings tied the game at 102, but Johnson would put the game away with a lefty hook heave falling down as the shot clock was expiring, while also drawing a foul. The Kings didn’t get anything good to try and tie the game; a Cousins isolation yielded another blocked shot at the rim, and a second isolation on the perimeter resulted in an awful three point attempt trying to draw a foul. And that was your ballgame.
The Kings now stand at 15-20, and while still in 8th, wasted a golden opportunity to put some distance on their competitors. Onto the Observations:
- Ben McLemore had one of the most disastrous six minute stints I can remember for a King. He started the game missing on all three of his shots. He passed up a semi-open look with the shot clock expiring, choosing to drive instead and not getting anything off. And on defense he fell down trying to navigate screens twice, giving his mark two wide open jumpers. He continues to be a horrible liability out there, and was benched once again for Afflalo in the second half.
- As for the other disappointing Kings lottery pick, Willie Cauley-Stein had a short stint that started with him watching a rebound he should have gotten fall right into Tyler Johnson’s hands. But afterward he at least competed on the glass, tipping out some offensive rebounds. He even hit a fadeaway jumper, continuing to show that his offense is ahead of his defense at this juncture of his career.
- I don’t know what its going to take to get Temple into the starting lineup. The Kings continue to trot out Afflalo and McLemore, who are terrible at getting around screens. Temple is the Kings’ best perimeter defender, and starting him ensures that teams do not get into a rhythm on offense. He’s not just a “break glass in case of emergency” defender; he needs to be the featured one in the starting lineup.
- Speaking of Afflalo, he needs to strictly be a small forward at this point in his career. He looked really energetic against bigger wings, but his lack of footspeed makes him a liability against springier SGs.
- Lawson is also making a strong case for the starting point guard slot. Collison simply does not look comfortable creating against all of the extra defensive attention he’s getting with Rudy Gay out. In the last ten games, he’s averaged: 11.4 points and 3.2 assists (to 1.6 TOs) in 24.7 minutes per game, on 50% FG / 36.8% 3P / 78.6% FT. Mostly, Lawson looks far more sure of himself getting to where he wants to on the floor for his own offense and creating for others.
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