At some point, these types of losses no longer feel like déjà vu for the Kings. Rather, they're the norm.
In falling 112-96 to the Dallas Mavericks on Friday night at Golden 1 Center, Sacramento couldn't build off its two-game winning streak, again falling victim to an untimely collapse in the middle of the game.
A strong first quarter in which Sacramento outscored Dallas 39-34 was followed by an abysmal second quarter, when the Kings were outpaced 28-17, and then 32-20 in the third.
Something about halftime appears to throw off the Kings (15-22) because so many of their losses this season have been due (in large part) to an untimely third-quarter implosion.
And it doesn't appear they have any answers.
“Once again, the third quarter was the quarter I thought was our downfall again," Kings interim coach Alvin Gentry told reporters postgame. "I swear to you, I’m open to suggestions. If you have any ideas on what to do, because we’ve tried it all right now as far as the third quarter. Getting out early, making sure we’re warmed up, all of these things. I don’t know why, and I can’t figure out why we’re losing our focus those 12 minutes. It’s pretty glaring.”
“We just have to figure out how to start the third quarter better," Kings big man Marvin Bagley said postgame. "I think that’s where a lot of this starts. We play good in the first half, we do a lot of good things in the first half, keep the game close, and we come out in the third and let up. We can’t keep doing that if we want to win these games. We got to figure out how to start stronger in the second half.”
The Kings played the Mavericks (17-18) just two nights ago, beating them on a thrilling, game-winning buzzer-beater from Chimezie Metu. Friday's loss, though, was extra frustrating for the Kings because Dallas ended up deploying a very similar game plan to the one the other night.
“We didn’t get any stops, and we struggled to make some shots during that run," Kings guard Tyrese Haliburton said. "We weren’t getting any stops, so that’s a recipe for failure right there.”
“They did the same exact thing they did last game, didn’t really change much. I just thought we missed shots at critical moments, turned the ball over. We finished the first quarter poorly.”
Despite the Kings' chances of a playoff run looking bleaker and bleaker each week, four teams (Warriors, Suns, Jazz, Grizzlies) continue to have a monopoly on the Western Conference, while the remaining four potential playoff spots are -- and likely will be -- up for grabs for the remainder of the season.
“I think we have enough here that if everybody is engaged and locked in and doing what they’re supposed to do – and I always include the coaches in that too – then I think we have enough to accomplish what we want to accomplish," Gentry added. "Do I think we have a championship team? No, let’s be realistic. But I do think if we have the guys play to their ability and we do a good job in preparation and game planning and stuff like that, then why can’t we accomplish what we set out to?”
Said Bagley: “We’re still in good shape. It’s a lot of games -- we have time to figure it out. We can’t keep saying that, though, because eventually it won’t be a lot of games, and then we’ll be fighting again. But I think we’re in good shape. It’s really only like three teams that are playing extremely well, and everybody else is kind of in and out and in the mix. So, we just have to continue to keep locking in and look at the bigger picture here, even when it’s tough and we’re losing games.”
Gentry's brutal honesty might be surprising at first, but if the Kings were to adopt a "nothing-to-lose," care-free type of mentality, maybe it'll loosen them up enough in the second half of the season to where they can go on a run.
If Sacramento is to reclaim the momentum that just slipped through its fingers Friday, it will have to traverse a gauntlet of sorts, with meetings against the Miami Heat, Los Angeles Lakers, Atlanta Hawks, Denver Nuggets and Cleveland Cavaliers among the next six games.