You can’t win them all.
After coming up with five straight victories, the Kings learned a new lesson Wednesday night against the San Antonio Spurs. For teams like both the Kings and the Spurs, this is playoff season and you have to bring everything you have every night or you’ll get smacked around.
The Kings knocked off the Spurs on Monday night, but accomplishing that feat twice in the span of three days proved too much for the upstart team from Sacramento.
NBA coaching legend Gregg Popovich made some adjustments and his players rose to the occasion, beating the Kings 120-106. This is a franchise that missed the playoffs last year for the first time in 22 years.
While they have some young players, it’s still the same system in place and veteran players like DeMar DeRozan, Rudy Gay and Patty Mills are still there to guide the ship.
The Kings looked slightly lethargic, but they also couldn’t get their shots to go down. Not only did they shoot just 11-of-35 from behind the arc, but Sacramento missed countless shots around the rim.
“There were a ton of open shots that we missed, so layups,” De’Aaron Fox said. “There’s nothing that they did, we just missed a lot of easy shots for us tonight.”
With the offense sputtering, the Kings fell back to their bad habit of allowing their struggles at one end of the court to impact the other end.
“We allowed them to dictate the tempo really, they got to their spots and shot the ball well,” Richaun Holmes said. “I think it affected us a little bit on both ends, especially with us not making shots. To win a game like that, we really can’t let our offense affect our defense.”
Fox, as well as sharpshooter Buddy Hield couldn’t buy a bucket early. The Kings’ two leading scorers posted just four points in the first half on a combined 0-for-12 from the field.
With the two main scoring cogs struggling, the rest of the squad needed to step forward. That isn’t as easy as it sounds when Walton is using a new four man bench unit that has hardly played together at all.
The key is to play well enough on the defensive end to keep your team in the game and then hope that shots start falling.
“There are going to be nights like that and there are going to be nights where you’re not missing shots,” Fox said. “But you want to be able to get stops whether you’re making or missing shots.”
Delon Wright, Moe Harkless and Terence Davis are all new to the roster after being acquired at the deadline last week and two-way big man Chimezie Metu is earning time with Hassan Whiteside on the shelf.
Sensing an off night from Fox and Hield early in the game, Wright made his presence felt, scoring 14 of his 16 points in the first half. But there wasn’t a sustained flow with the core players that filled out the rotation.
The Kings forced shots, over dribbled the basketball and instead of a free flowing offense, the team looked clunky on both ends of the court for segments of the game.
“When the times are tough, you see the growing pains or the weaknesses you have as a team will come out naturally,” coach Luke Walton said. “That was definitely part of it.”
This isn’t on the new guys. It’s on the blending of new pieces, which is always going to need an adjustment period. Instead of pulling together to get a win, the team scattered slightly, which cost them their five game win streak.
The trick for Walton and his team now is to avoid falling off like they did earlier in the season. After a similar hot streak where the team won seven out of eight games, Sacramento spiraled, losing nine straight games. A similar downturn would end their season early.
“It’s on to the next, we lost, we can’t get this game back, it’s over with, move on and get ready for our next opponent,” Holmes said. “Just like that. It’s really that simple.”
With the Los Angeles Lakers and Milwaukee Bucks up next, the Kings need to find a way to show that this was nothing more than a blip on the radar.
Sacramento has 24 games remaining. The sprint to the finish line is on. At 22-26, the Kings have almost no room for mistakes if they hope to snap the franchise’s 14-year playoff drought. It’s one night against a tough Spurs team and now the Kings need to find a way to get one back against two of the better teams in the league.