Whom the Sacramento Kings beat on Friday night was inconsequential. Be it the Heat or the Milwaukee Bucks, coach Malone and his ever-changing band of characters needed a new outcome. Losing is unbearable. It wears you down.
After Monday night’s disappointing loss to the New Orleans Pelicans, Malone chose to give his team a break, despite the fact that the group had really only had one practice together since the team acquired Rudy Gay a little less than three weeks ago.
“It was a tough decision,” Malone told media members before taking on the Heat. “On one hand, you know that you need practice time and the more time we can try and get these guys caught up to speed, the better. But sometimes you have to weigh that against guys needing a little bit of space from each other.”
The Pelicans didn’t get a break. They stayed in Sacramento overnight and practiced the next morning, before taking a late flight out of town on Christmas Eve.
But the Kings are not the Pelicans. They are a mixed bag of puzzle pieces thrown together on the fly. There are no guarantees that these pieces fit together, let alone whether or not there are enough corner pieces to make a border.
“We had a good practice yesterday, good shootaround (today),” Malone said. “We had some good dialogue and conversation this morning talking about who we are, where we’re at in this season.”
This statement touches one of the larger questions for this team. Who are the Sacramento Kings?
I’m not sure that Malone or anyone else really knows the answer to that question. Malone has an idea of who he would like this team to be and then hours of footage showing something different.
They are not the offensive juggernaut that the players believe that they are. Nor are they a defensive unit, like coach Malone longs for. They are a schizophrenic mess in need of an identity.
We have preached patience. Some buy into that idea; others do not. The question is not for writers or fans to discover. It is for Malone and 13 individuals pulling in different directions.
“This team still isn’t really together,” DeMarcus Cousins told reporters following the win against Miami. “Everybody’s new to one another. We’re still trying to figure each other out.
That’s not something that just happens in two or three practices” Cousins continued. “We still have a lot of growing to do, but that doesn’t stop us from going out and defending every night.”
Malone suggested earlier this week that maybe he needed different players to make this thing work, but after a few days off to clear his head, his message is more coherent.
“We know where our deficiencies are,” Malone said. “Lately, the offense has been fine, aside from our turnovers, which are really rising rapidly, which is a concern. But then defensively is where it all starts and ends for us.”
The Kings coach would love to have a shot-blocking big man and defensive guard to slow the elite perimeter players in the league. But Pete D’Alessandro isn’t Santa Claus. He has added talent where he can, and for now, that is what Malone will have to work with.
Friday night may have been an anomaly, but then again, it may have been an indicator of what this team can do when it has time to practice. After a horrible start to the game that included a 17-point first quarter deficit, the Kings locked down.
From the second quarter on, the Kings limited Miami to 40-percent shooting and outscored the two-time defending champions 89-71.
You can point to Dwyane Wade and Ray Allen sitting out the game, but the Heat are one of the deepest teams in the league and they still have four-time MVP LeBron James. Their bench is riddled with proven veterans, and they have had no problem dispatching teams under similar circumstances.
The stats told one story, and the eye confirmed it. The Kings were communicating better on the defensive end. Their rotations were better and there were even times when Sacramento played as a unit.
Did mistakes happen? Sure, the Kings were slow to rotate on Shane Battier in the corner early on and got burned for three corner three’s. But that happens when you are double-teaming the greatest player on the planet.
What does beating the Miami Heat tell us about this current Kings roster? Absolutely nothing. For one night, they were good enough to take down a very good basketball team.
This team is flawed, but maybe not critically flawed like so many believe. The truth is, we will not know who this team is until much later this season. We won’t know if this core is legit or needs to be further torn down.
We won’t know if Isaiah Thomas is the future at the point guard position or if Gay is the long-term answer at the small forward. We won’t know, Michael Malone won’t know and neither will Pete D’Alessandro. It’s not the popular answer to the question, but it is the correct answer.
“We can use this win to get us on the right path,” Gay said on Friday. “Obviously, if we play like this, we can beat anybody, as you saw today.”
They can beat anybody, and they can also lose to anybody. Welcome to your 2013-14 Sacramento Kings.