The NBA’s eight-game restart in Orlando isn’t the playoffs, but it might as well be for teams like the Sacramento Kings.
The level of intensity is playoff worthy. The physicality is playoff worthy. Most of the 22 teams invited to the action are playoff worthy.
Sacramento’s 0-2 start is a gut punch, especially when you look at their remaining six-game schedule. The expectations were high coming into the restart and the results from the first two games aren’t just your standard losses, they both were demoralizing.
Head coach Luke Walton talked about his team getting pushed around following Sunday’s debacle in the bubble. On Monday morning, the team brought out a couple of veterans to help give some perspective.
“I just think overall it’s a very good learning experience for a very young team that hasn’t been in a playoff-type atmosphere,” Kent Bazemore said. “I think the intensity down here is reminiscent of the playoffs, without the 20,000 people. So it’s an eye-opening experience for a lot of guys.”
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While the Kings aren’t necessarily young in NBA years, they have a core of players that are inexperienced. They have no idea how the action changes in the final 10-20 games of the season when teams gear up for the playoffs, although they got a small taste of that last season. And they certainly haven’t experienced the pressure of a seven-game postseason series.
“We’ve got to understand that it’s a sprint,” Bazemore continued. “We’ve got to come out with a better sense of urgency. It’s just something that you can’t really explain to a guy, they have to go through it.”
The hole is deep, but there is still light at the end of the tunnel. Not only do the Kings have an opportunity to bounce back, but the experience that they are gaining through this experience is invaluable.
The coaching staff and the veterans on the roster need to guide the younger players through this period, both on and off the court.
“You’ve just gotta keep your spirits high, keep positive energy and make it contagious,” Cory Joseph said. “Guys are professionals. They are going to do what they’ve gotta do to get their games back right.”
The Kings aren’t the only team that is struggling early in the tournament. The Memphis Grizzlies have dropped their first two games, same with the New Orleans Pelicans. A team like the San Antonio Spurs, who have made the playoffs 22 consecutive seasons, have somehow rattled off consecutive wins to take a lead in the race for the play-in game.
The Portland Trail Blazers, who made it all the way to the Western Conference Finals last season, are 1-1 in the restart and like San Antonio, they’ve shown that they are ready for the challenge ahead.
Is the season over for Sacramento? No. The Kings still have time to turn it around and at least make things interesting. But their already narrow margin for error has gotten even smaller.
“The worst part about it is that we are underachieving as a team, that’s just the truth,” Bazemore said. “We’re a very talented team. We’re more talented than the first two teams we played against and a lot of other teams that are here.”
Talent is an important ingredient to NBA success, but so is experience, execution and physicality. Hopefully the Kings are learning that they can’t walk into a gym and just expect to win on talent alone.
The Kings return to the court on Tuesday where they’ll face Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks. If they have any hope of this being more than just a learning experience, they have to step up to the challenge against a talented team.