Losing takes a toll. It wipes the smile off your face. It makes a difficult 72-game schedule feel longer, and it inevitably leads to changes.
The Kings had lofty goals heading into the 2020-21 season, but all of those aspirations came to a screeching halt over the last three weeks. Nine consecutive losses crushed the dreams of a playoff berth and likely set up another offseason of transition.
Sacramento snapped its skid Sunday with a 121-107 win over the Dallas Mavericks. The Kings took down a very good Mavericks team, despite superstar Luka Doncic scoring 22 of his 37 points in the fourth quarter.
“It was a total team effort,” Delon Wright said in a video conference after the win. “The starters set that tone and it made it easier for us bench guys to come in and fall in line.”
The starters opened with an 8-0 run to set the tempo, but this was a game where different players stepped up at different times to help the team navigate their way to a win.
The first quarter was all Hassan Whiteside. The 7-footer nearly posted a double-double in the quarter, and he forced the Mavericks to make changes. He was active on the glass and made his shots around the rim.
In the second quarter, newcomer Terence Davis caught fire. His energy that led to a 45-point quarter and a 17-point halftime lead for Sacramento.
“We want him to come out there and be aggressive,” De’Aaron Fox said of Davis. “There are times where he’s still hesitating with being on a new team. But we’re still confident in him to take those shots, especially those open ones. He’s getting there. He’s continuing to grow as a player for us and he’s getting more comfortable in the system.”
Davis dropped 15 of his 23 points in the second. He knocked down 5-for-5 from long range in the game and even earned some fourth-quarter minutes with his play.
“It’s a better plane ride home then when you take an L, for sure,” Davis said. “I know all the guys will be happy, feeling good on the plane.”
When the Mavericks punched back in the third, veteran Harrison Barnes started launching shots from long range and attacking the rim on his way to a 24-point game.
Late in the game, Doncic and Fox went toe-to-toe. While the stars shined, veteran Delon Wright made an impact on defense and quietly posted 11 points Sunday, including a perfect 6-for-6 from the free-throw line.
“When you lose nine lose nine straight, you’ve got to look at yourself in the mirror and see where you can help your team,” Wright said. “I just feel like that’s what some of us role players are trying to do is look in the mirror, see where we can help this team and try to get over the hump.”
While Buddy Hield and Tyrese Haliburton both had subpar games, the Kings still managed to win. Performances from players like Moe Harkless, who scored just eight points in 34 minutes, shouldn't be overlooked.
Harkless scored only eight points and grabbed six rebounds, but he was a team-best plus-31 on the night.
A deeper dive into the numbers shows that Harkless posted a team-best +31 for the night and his third-quarter dust-up with Kristaps Porzingis gave the Kings a boost. No punches were thrown, but he showed the spine Sacramento needs down the stretch.
These are the “little things” that the team continues to preach, especially during the losing streak.
“He doesn’t score a lot, but the way he affects the game … we ask him to guard Luka, Porzingis and get in there and battle with Dwight Powell,” Fox said of Harkless. “We ask him to do a lot of stuff for us. A lot of dirty work.”
The Kings' second nine-game losing streak has all but ended their playoff hopes, but there's still time for Sacramento to build chemistry, culture and momentum for next season.
The struggling Minnesota Timberwolves will visit Golden 1 Center on Tuesday and Wednesday, and the timing is ripe for the Kings. With the way this season has gone, you can't rule out Sacramento stringing together a winning streak and, at minimum, frustrating everyone involved by making the race for the play-in games interesting.
“Sometimes one game can turn things around,” Fox said. “For us, we dug ourselves really deep with losing nine games in a row and guys trying to find themselves and what they need to do. It was definitely a collective group effort tonight.”
It’s one game, but this team needed a win in the worst way. At 23-34, the Kings have been a disappointment, yet there is still time to at least build some character by playing spoiler.
With the way this season has gone, the final Kings' final 15 games could easily take us all on at least one or two rollercoaster rides before it’s all said and done.