SACRAMENTO -- It’s called letting go of the rope.
A series of tough losses hurt. A series of bad losses showed that the team wasn’t quite ready for prime time.
Long before the Kings were eliminated from playoff contention against the Houston Rockets on April 2, there were signs of the team fading.
With Sunday’s 133-129 loss to New Orleans, the Kings are 9-15 over their last 24 games. The Pelicans suited up eight healthy bodies. Anthony Davis, Jrue Holiday, E’Twaun Moore, Julius Randle and Stanley Johnson were not amongst those in uniform.
“We’ve just been letting games slip from us and losing games we should win,” rookie Marvin Bagley said. “Small stuff that we were doing at the beginning of the year that we kind of got away from and it was starting to show.”
Small stuff. Big stuff. Stuff in general. The Kings aren’t the same club that rammed the ball down the throats of their opponents for the first 50-60 games of the season. They also aren’t the team that got stops when they needed it down the stretch of tight ball games.
“It’s still been a terrific season, but by and large, over the last nine games I think we’ve played well once, and the idea of what we’re trying to do with this young group is to teach them how to play 82 games,” coach Dave Joerger said.
The Kings can still score with the best of them, but their defense continues to show cracks that are unacceptable if you hope to play in the postseason.
By NBA standards, giving up 133 points to a 33-48 Pelicans team missing 80 percent of their starting lineup isn’t okay.
“Yeah - it’s not a ton of defensive mistakes as far as just technical stuff,” Joerger said. “It’s just straight up trying to keep the basketball in front of us has been difficult.”
This isn’t how the team wanted to finish the year, but there is a lot of positives to take into the offseason. With most of the rotation still on rookie scale contracts, there are going to be bumps in the road.
The group is clearly frustrated that they fell short off their ultimate goal of making the playoffs and they haven’t handled the down turn the way they would have liked.
“It’s human nature, you start thinking differently,” Buddy Hield said. “Mentally you’ve got to focus. Some guys want the season to get done quickly, but I’m a competitor, man, I’m competing as hard as I can. I love the game, so it sucks that we have one game left.”
Sacramento still has one more game to send the season off on a high note. They’ll travel to Portland to face the playoff-bound Trail Blazers, but it’s a team that is working through injuries, playing the second night of a back-to-back and may already have their seeding in the playoffs on lockdown.
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The goal to make it to the postseason is gone, but the next step was to learn how to play a full 82 games. That is just a starting point. If the Kings want to make it to the postseason next season, they have to be prepared for 90 or 95 games.
Talent can get you far. A good scheme can help you hide some of the faults. But in the end, there is only one way to gain the necessary experience needed and that is to go through the ups and downs first hand.