SACRAMENTO -- Trouble with the third.
After playing a highly competitive first half in each of the first two games of the 2019-20 NBA season, the Sacramento Kings have come out in the third quarter of both contests and laid eggs.
The latest poor effort came Friday night in a 122-112 loss to the Portland Trail Blazers at Golden 1 Center. It’s an issue that needs immediate attention, or the team quickly will dig themselves a huge hole.
“The third quarter, we’ve just been bad. We’ve been horrible in the third quarter, so that’s something we have to figure out,” Kings guard De’Aaron Fox told NBC Sports California.
The Kings went into halftime tied with the Blazers at 57, in Sacramento's home opener. The Kings allowed the Blazers to hit them with a 12-0 run to begin the third quarter, which completely changed the momentum of the game.
“We just weren’t getting into anything offensively," Fox said. "We had a couple of turnovers, and then when we were on defense, they were getting whatever they wanted."
The Kings recovered to pull within 75-74, but the Blazers hit them again with a big run, pushing their lead to 94-84 heading to the fourth.
Whether it’s the newness of the system or trying to build chemistry after an offseason of turnover, the Kings look out of sorts. They have moments when they look solid, but other times when they take bad shots and handle the ball like a game of hot potato.
“There’s room for improvement,” Kings forward Harrison Barnes told NBC Sports California. “Offensively, I think our quality of shots versus the opponents the last couple of games, they’ve gotten cleaner looks. We’re taking a little bit more difficult shots, and we’ve just got to do a better job of finding that great one every possession, especially when things get a little stagnant.”
The Kings were outscored 37-27 in the 12 minutes after the intermission and outshot 54.2 percent to 40 percent in the period. Fox tried to keep his team in the game during the third by attacking the rim, but the Blazers came at the Kings in waves.
Anfernee Simons was an issue in the first half, and Damian Lillard proved difficult to cover throughout the game. But it was big man Hassan Whiteside who did most of the damage in the third.
The former Kings second-round draft pick destroyed Sacramento’s frontline for 16 of his 22 points in the quarter on a perfect 6-of-6 shooting from the field. He bullied his way to the basket and created second-chance opportunities for his teammates.
“We’ve got to have more toughness to this team. We’ve got to want it more,” Kings guard Buddy Hield told reporters. “This is the NBA, what do you expect? It’s hard to win, and you’ve got to really want to win if you want to be elite in this league.”
The locker room wasn’t doom and gloom after the loss, but there clearly is concern. At 0-2 with the second end of a back-to-back in Utah on Saturday, the Kings are in a tough position.
[RELATED: Fox tweaks hip late in loss]
Patience is needed as the Kings search for chemistry on the court. At the same time, the team is in danger of already starting a negative trend. It’s on everyone involved to figure out how to come out with more energy in the third quarter and be the aggressors.
“It’s going to be a process,” Barnes said. “We have the talent -- I think everyone in this room knows that. But it’s figuring out how to get everyone’s best, when it’s needed, at the same time and everyone has it going.”
Despite the loss, the Kings looked better in Game No. 2 than they did in the season opener. They’ll be tested again Saturday against a very tough Jazz team that took a 96-86 loss Friday night in Los Angeles to the Lakers.