SACRAMENTO -- No one is going to hand the Sacramento Kings a playoff spot. After nearly a decade of complete futility, you would assume that they knew that.
The Kings faced another beatable team on Sunday night. The Portland Trail Blazers were playing the second night of a back-to-back. Their star player, Damian Lillard, missed his fourth straight game due to plantar fasciitis and their starting center couldn’t stay on the floor due to foul trouble.
The Kings had everything going for them, including the opportunity to slide into the eighth spot in the Western Conference standings. Once again, they laid an egg, falling to the Blazers by a final of 98-94.
[RECAP: Instant Replay: Kings slip in fourth quarter, lose to Blazers]
“I’m done, I’m frustrated,” coach George Karl said as he abruptly ended the team’s postgame press conference.
I’m sure he isn’t the only one in Sacramento feeling that exact same way.
In front of their home crowd, and after a three day break for the holidays, the Kings threw the ball all over the court, and sometimes into the stands, on their way to a 23 turnover night. Portland took full advantage, scoring 28 points off of Kings mistakes.
“The first four turnovers we had were crazy passes, come on,” Karl said. “The first four at the beginning of the game was crazy. We were trying to throw Aaron Rodgers in the window passes from 30 feet. It’s not football, it’s basketball.”
Portland began on an 11-3 run in the game’s first two minutes. The game log reads: Kings turnover, Blazers made 3-pointer.
Sacramento rallied, even taking a 10-point lead in the first quarter, but their reluctance to play it safe left every lead in peril.
“You’re supposed to throw a pass, it’s going to have a 98-percent chance of being completed,” a clearly enraged Karl added. “We got to value possessions. I don’t think we are a talented enough basketball team not to put more value on every possession.”
This is nothing new for the Kings. They have treated plenty of opponents to a smorgasbord of open opportunities. A hat tip to Portland for finding so many different ways to capitalize on Sacramento’s miscues.
Rajon Rondo led the way with eight gaffs, taking the luster off his nine-point, 15-assist night. Cousins added five turnovers and the rest of the mistakes were dispersed pretty evenly between the Kings remaining seven rotational players.
“Where do I see a lot of that coming from?” Rudy Gay asked. “I don’t know - we were kind of careless with the ball a little bit early and also in the end. So we’ve just got to take care of it. We’ve had games that we didn’t turn it over and this is one of the games that we did turn it over and they made us pay.”
This is a reoccurring theme for a team that continues to get so close to their enormous promise before falling flat on their face. Sacramento was coming off a 2-2 road trip and had won five-of-seven coming into the contest.
Now they are faced with playing the 28-1 Golden State Warriors Monday night in Oakland. The Kings are 0-7 on the season in the second night of a back-to-back. They have also lost 10 straight to the Warriors, including the last five at Oracle Arena.
The turnover situation was enough to turn your stomach, but the fourth quarter meltdown is the real reason the Kings lost to the Blazers on Sunday night.
Sacramento led by as many as seven in the third quarter, but squandered the lead and went to the fourth all even at 80-80. Portland tightened their defense in the final 12 minutes and the Kings had no answer.
Including Gay’s inconsequential tip-in at the buzzer, the Kings hit 3-for-21 from the field in the final frame and finished with just 14 points. Cousins scored half of those points, but shot 2-of-9 in the period.
“We were trying to get different looks,” Omri Casspi said. “They did a good job of containing DeMarcus, staying out of fouls and stuff like that.”
Sacramento hit just one of their 10 attempts from long range in the quarter. Again, Cousins had the lone make from distance. Darren Collison added four points from the line but it’s nearly impossible to win an NBA game shooting 13.6 percent from the field in a deciding quarter, especially when you turn the ball over five times as well.
When the opposition forces the Kings to slow the ball down and play in the halfcourt, this team struggles. It becomes Cousins or nothing and that isn’t going to cut it most nights in the NBA.
Gay couldn’t buy a bucket. His 2-of-12 performance was one of the worst shooting nights he’s had as a King, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t have a positive impact on the game.
The veteran forward finished the night with a game-high 14 rebounds, including eight in the fourth quarter while his team was struggling to stay in the game.
“You’ve got to do something, got to do something to be a part of the game,” Gay said. “Today was rebound.”
Gay also played solid defense on Al-Farouq Aminu, holding his counterpart to five points on 2-of-8 shooting. Sometimes the ball doesn’t go in the hole and you have to find another way to help your team.