SACRAMENTO -- We have reached the “anger and bargaining” portion of the 2020-21 Sacramento Kings season. It’s the third stage of grief. It comes after “shock and denial” and “pain and guilt.”
Eventually the Kings will cycle through all seven stages of grief as they watch their season slip away. Five losses in a row this late in the year is frustrating. Losing back-to-back games to the two worst teams in the league is something much more.
“That’s absolutely unacceptable the way we came out and played the game of basketball tonight,” coach Luke Walton said. “It’s not OK. It’s disappointing -- with all of us, we’re in this together. I’m not putting blame on anyone but the group as a whole.”
After an embarrassing 10-point loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves on Monday, the Kings had two days off to prepare for a Detroit Pistons team that came into the night at 15-36. Once again, the Kings allowed a team to come in and push them all over the court, falling by a final of 113-103.
“I have to be better at the beginning of games, but us as a team, we can’t let guys push us off our spot,” De’Aaron Fox said. “Even the first play, we ran a dribble handoff and they pushed us out to like the Golden 1 logo.”
When the Kings are at their best, they are a fun group that gets out and runs up and down then court. They can score at will and they feed off the energy of each other.
But when this team is bad, there is a fragility to the group that is rarely seen, even during the 14-year playoff drought. They allow losses to snowball and the current streak has come at the absolute worst time.
“We’ve shown where we can be as a team and we’ve shown how bad we can be as a team,” Walton said. “To come out and go through this again is really frustrating, because you want to learn from your mistakes and that’s what’s important.”
It feels like this team is afraid of success. Or at least they have no idea how to deal with it, manage it and continue down a positive path.
“When you’re building something and you’re growing as a team, as long as you’re getting better and learning from your mistakes, you can deal with the lumps,” Walton said. “It’s still hard and there’s sleepless nights, but you can deal with it. But every time we lose one or two games, it turns into a five or six game losing streak and we lose our passion.”
Walton is clearly disappointed with where his team is as a whole. When the tough times come, which they do for every team, the Kings don’t seem to have the structure they need to fall back on. Their default setting is to stop communicating on the defensive end, take rushed shots, over dribble and just make mistakes that teams in this position can’t make.
It’s not one individual that you can single out every game. The group almost takes turns having nights where they lack focus or effort or some other ingredient that leads to sustainable winning basketball.
“It’s about responsibility,” Harrison Barnes said. “We’ve been in this situation I don’t know how many times. I’ve sat in front of you guys, I don’t know how many times. You've been asking the same questions. All I can tell you is that individually, we have to be accountable and I’m not holding up my end of the bargain at this point.”
Adding to the level of frustration with this team is the fact that a little over a week ago, they were riding a four-game win streak and had clawed their way back into the race. This is now the second time this season they have gone on a hot streak and then completely fallen apart.
They’ve shown that they can string wins together. They’ve played defense and played for each other. But when times get difficult, this current pattern pops back up.
“This group has won games playing the right way, playing consistent basketball for 48 minutes,” Barnes said. “At this point in time, if we’re 20 games out and potentially trying to make the play-in game, and we need someone to vocally motivate us after losing four straight games -- I don’t know who that is, it’s must be the greatest motivational speaker of all time.”
“At the end of the day, we’re all professionals,” Barnes added. “We have 48 minutes in a day to focus and play this game and when we come with the effort we did tonight, it doesn’t really matter who is saying what, our actions speak louder than our words.”
During the teams nine-game skid earlier in the season, the core of the team reacted in a similar fashion. They placed the blame on themselves as players and eventually, they found a way to dig out of the hole they had created.
At 22-29, the Kings should be completely out of postseason contention, but they aren’t. The problem they are now faced with is that they lose games to teams that they shouldn’t lose to and then the schedule makes them pay.
It isn’t going to get any easier moving forward and no one feels bad for the Kings. This behavior has defined this season. If they can’t break their bad habits, it will be another lost year in Sacramento.