Charlotte Hornets

Kings takeaways: What we learned in listless 110-102 loss vs. Hornets

Kings takeaways: What we learned in listless 110-102 loss vs. Hornets

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Playing to the level of their competition has been an issue for the Sacramento Kings all season long. The issue reared its ugly head in the team’s loss to the New York Knicks on Friday and once again on Tuesday when the team traveled to Charlotte to face the Hornets.

After a competitive three quarters, the Kings came out flat to start the fourth quarter and Charlotte made them pay.

Malik Monk came off the bench and pounded the Kings for 23 points. Cody Zeller played well in the post and Devonte’ Graham got hot late to propel the Hornets to a 110-102 victory.

Here are three takeaways as the Kings struggled down the stretch and fell to 12-15 on the season.

Fantastic Mr. Fox

After a 17-game layoff, De’Aaron Fox returned to game action Tuesday and instantly resumed his role as the head of the snake.

The 21-year-old entered the game with seven minutes remaining in the first quarter and immediately started setting up his teammates. On the offensive end, he didn’t miss a beat.

He started rolling in the second quarter, knocking down a pair of 3-pointers. When Fox entered the game in the third, he started attacking the rim and the Hornets had no answer.

In his first game in five weeks, Fox finished with 19 points, eight assists and two steals. He was a step slow on the defensive end, but he played 29 minutes and looked very good for Sacramento.

Trouble with the triple

The Kings should be one of the better 3-point shooting teams in the NBA. They shoot a ton of long balls, but they are just 13th in the NBA in 3-point accuracy at 35.9 percent. 

Sacramento wasn't shy against Charlotte, hoisting 40 attempts from beyond the arc. The Kings hit just 14, including three late ones from Buddy Hield when the outcome had already been decided.

Harrison Barnes shot just 1-of-6 from deep and Nemanja Bjelica converted only two of his eight attempts. If you’re going to shoot that many 3-pointers, you have to knock down a better percentage.

[RELATED: Warriors slip to last, Kings rise in NBA Power Rankings]

Learning curve

Marvin Bagley walked into the league with the ability to score 20 points per game. His athleticism is elite and so is his offensive skill set.

In his first four games back from a broken right thumb, the 20-year-old big has put up numbers, like the 14 points and seven rebounds he dropped on Charlotte. But on the defensive end, he has a long way to go.

The second-year big has been slow to rotate and he’s almost non-existent as a help defender. After a rough first half against the Hornets, Bagley made a few adjustments in the third quarter and looked better, but he remains a work in progress.

It doesn’t help that Bagley is taking Richaun Holmes’ -- the team's best interior defender -- spot on the floor. Continuing an early-season trend, Bagley was a minus-19 over 22 minutes on Tuesday.

Warriors' season of transition has cost them their defense principles

Warriors' season of transition has cost them their defense principles

The Warriors unfurled a massive defensive abomination Wednesday night, and in such a case it’s always tempting to throw a big blanket of blame over the braided head of D’Angelo Russell.

That’s Russell’s reputation, right? That he’s a fantastic scorer, with the ability to create, but his languid defense is going to give away as many if not more points than he produces?

And, man, did Hornets guards Devonte Graham and Terry Rozier, both smallish by NBA standards, get theirs. They combined for 58 points, basically burying the Warriors under an avalanche of 3-pointers in Charlotte's 106-91 victory.

Of course, they did. Russell, after missing nine games, was back in the starting lineup. Such a conclusion was predictable.

Yet it is, in this instance, a thousand ways wrong.

Though Russell wasn’t not exactly locking down either Graham or Rozier, a lot of the damage they did came with him on the bench. Indeed, it’s not hyperbole to suggest the Warriors lost this game because Russell was on the bench.

The Warriors trailed by three, 71-68, when D-Lo took a seat with 6:17 remaining in the third quarter.

A little more than five minutes later, with Russell still on the bench, the Warriors were squinting at a 12-point deficit. By the time D-Lo returned early in the third quarter, they were down 15 and the slow fade was on.

“The late third quarter really killed us,” coach Steve Kerr told reporters in Spectrum Center. “We just didn’t have much traction defensively. We turned it over a few times, and they got some easy hoops and it was too bad because we started out the 3rd quarter really well. We just couldn’t stay in the game.”

What happened? Russell’s rest break – which, it must be noted, was simultaneous to that of Draymond Green – was greeted by a 3-pointer by Rozier, followed by a Rozier dunk off a turnover by backup guard Ky Bowman, followed by a Graham triple.

Graham finished with 33 points, with 10 triples. Rozier had 25 points, with five triples.

The separation created during that stretch crushed the Warriors and, moreover, told a story about their defense that extends well beyond the lapses that can be attributed to Russell.

The team that won championships with its defense – though the offense received greater acclaim – has only a couple players committed to full defensive engagement and that’s hardly enough to offset the generally poor habits on that end of the floor.

The holey defense of November, the one Kerr lambasted a couple weeks ago, has seeped into December.

Yeah, the roster has been fortified. After spending the past two weeks with eight or nine available players, the Warriors dressed 11 against Charlotte. But the broad gaps and slow rotations and flat-footed postures remained – along with communication that alternates between little and none.

“You can’t play defense without communicating,” Green said. “Next to just wanting to play defense, the most important thing is communicating. We’ve got to be better.”

Which is what was said opening night, when the Clippers rolled up 141 points. It was said after the Spurs rang up 127, after the Jazz hit 122 and the Lakers hit 120. It was fairly screamed two weeks ago, after the Mavericks went for 142 – with Russell out of the lineup.

This is not to excuse the offense, which often goes fully zombiesque, with little movement and possessions that seem to give up after one or two passes. That offense committed 17 turnovers Wednesday, giving the Hornets 23 points.

[RELATED: Iguodala couldn't believe refs missed LeBron's travel]

When the offense is better, and Russell certainly will help, the defense should get better. But the habits can be there at all times, no matter what the offense is doing. Graham and Rozier often had enough time to shower before aiming and firing.

Kerr and his coaching staff are trying to be patient. Green, who lives for defense, is trying to stay optimistic. They all understand the team is in transition.

But must a tumble from the elite forgo defensive principles to such a degree that it plummets right past ordinary and into a place beneath the NBA’s cellar?

Warriors takeaways: What we learned in 106-91 road loss vs. Hornets

Warriors takeaways: What we learned in 106-91 road loss vs. Hornets

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The Warriors on Wednesday night looked as healthy as they have since opening night -- until they took ill in the third quarter.

Down four at the half and briefly taking a two-point lead three minutes into the third quarter, they were outscored 23-11 over the final nine minutes of the quarter and never recovered in a 106-91 loss to the Hornets at Spectrum Center in Charlotte.

The return of D’Angelo Russell gave the Warriors 11 available players for the first time since mid-November. The new energy seemed to provide a boost, but they were unable to maintain the momentum created at several points of the game.

The Warriors lost for the 13th time in 15 games, dropping to an NBA-worst 4-19 record.

Here are three takeaways from a second consecutive loss to a struggling opponent:

The return of D-Lo

Insofar as Russell missed nine games with a sprained left thumb, which happened to be on his shooting hand, it was difficult to project how effective he might be in his return.

It didn’t take long for him to prove that as a scorer, which is his primary role with his roster, he was highly effective.

Wearing a taped bandage on his thumb, Russell totaled 18 points on 7-of-13 shooting from the field, including 3-of-7 from beyond the arc. After a fairly pedestrian opening quarter, he was sensational after entering for the final 6:25 of the second frame, scoring 13 points on 5-of-5 shooting, including 2-of-2 from deep.

Though there were several occasions when Russell seemed to be affected by his thumb -- inspecting it, flexing it -- it did not prevent him from putting the ball through the hoop.

The Warriors have needed someone to generate offense, and Russell immediately looks ready to slide back into that role.

No D leads to parade of easy threes

The Warriors entered Wednesday's game with the fifth-worst 3-point defense -- opponents were shooting 42.7 percent from deep -- in the league. They might have moved a bit closer to absolute worst with this performance.

Charlotte, which ranked 11th in 3-point shooting (36.1 percent), surely made a leap toward the top.

With 6-foot-1 guard Devonte’ Graham leading the way, the Hornets shot 44.7 percent (21-of-47) from beyond the arc. Graham was 10-of-16 from deep in pouring in a game-high and season-high 33 points.

What had to be particularly painful was that the Warriors undoubtedly knew what to expect from the Hornets and certainly from Graham. He has made more 3-pointers than everyone except NBA scoring leader James Harden.

Yet Graham feasted, mostly off open looks as the Warriors were slow to recover and inconsistent with their switching. His teammates weren’t far behind.

[RELATED: From Saginaw to NBA star: Draymond reflects on the journey]

Gifts three weeks before Christmas

Even as they were losing games earlier this season, the Warriors were able to keep their turnovers down. That trend is reversing at the speed of light.

After committing 25 turnovers (while recording 17 assists) in a loss to the Hawks in Atlanta on Monday, the Warriors came out Wednesday and spread 17 gifts to the Hornets while ringing up only 16 dimes. The desired numbers are two assists for each turnover.

Though 17 turnovers are not an outrageous amount, it’s devastating when so many of them are live-ball giveaways that trigger fast breaks the other way. Charlotte scored 23 points off turnovers.