Observations on the Kings’ eight-game road trip
Like Vince Vaughn’s latest box office bomb, the Kings’ business trip was one to forget. The team returned to Sacramento on Sunday morning after playing eight games in 11 days, winning two.
To be fair, the odds were stacked against Sacramento. Two weeks away from friends and family is hard enough without working in a new head coach and system. The Knicks game, which was rescheduled from late January, only added to the misery. But professionals still should be held accountable.
Notes on the Kings’ first eight-game trip since 2000:
- Defense, or a lack thereof, was the Kings’ downfall. They allowed opponents to score 111.8 points per game, shoot 50.4 percent on field goals and 40 percent on 3’s. Furthermore, adversaries averaged 19 fast break points, 20.4 points off turnovers and 47.5 points in the paint. The Kings upped their steals to 7.8 per contest, but the overall effort on defense was uninspired and at times laughable.
- The Kings’ offense held its end of the bargain. They scored 106.8 points per match, shot 44.7 percent and 38.8 percent from downtown. Sacramento maintained its dominance at the charity stripe, drawing 31.4 free throws a game and making 80.1 percent and averaged 46.8 points in the paint. To no surprise, the Kings continued their sloppy ways with 16.5 turnovers a night, but they dished 22.1 assists, which is a good sign for the NBA’s last place team in the department.
- DeMarcus Cousins played the entire trip with a sore left ankle but still took care of business. He averaged 24.1 points, 12.5 rebounds, 2.6 assists, 1.5 steals, 1.3 blocks and 3.1 turnovers. While Cousins hit a 3 in New York and hauled in a career-high 24 rebounds in Philadelphia, he did have two off nights in San Antonio and Atlanta, and fouled out in Miami and Washington.
- Before sitting out the eighth game with a left patellar tendon strain, Rudy Gay was enjoying a bucket surge. The small forward notched 24.9 points per game on 51.5 percent shooting from the floor and 48.4 percent from behind the arc. Gay led the Kings in field goal attempts and scoring average for the trip.
- Point guard play was steady yet non-filling. The combo of Ray McCallum and Andre Miller accounted for 91 of the Kings’ 177 assists, while losing only 31 of 132 total turnovers. McCallum shot 40.8 percent from the floor and 37.5 percent from downtown, but Miller was a negative with 25 percent field goal accuracy and 2-of-13 makes behind the arc. Both left more to be desired as defenders.
- Ben McLemore was a seesaw act. He scored 20 or more points three times, but shot under 30 percent in another four contests. The shooting guard’s inconsistencies have also spread to his defense on the perimeter.
- Jason Thompson entered the road trip as a starter, but came home as a reserve. Karl benched Thompson for Carl Landry in game five versus the Hawks, which made little difference. Since the promotion, Landry has produced 7.5 points and 2.5 rebounds in 16.3 minutes per match. As a backup, Thompson has hardly shared the frontcourt with Cousins as the Kings opt to roll with smaller bodies.
- Karl shuffled his rotations beyond Thompson. Landry saw diminished time and sat out two games before his start, while the coach leaned more and more on Derrick Williams over the past week. Nik Stauskas saw more than 20 minutes of action three times, and recorded two DNPs as well. Reggie Evans logged a total of 12 minutes through seven games before playing 18 in the loss to Washington.
- An encouraging sign was Stauskas. Right off the bat he tied a season-high 15 points versus the Knicks. Stauskas made 51.6 percent of his field goals and 50 percent of his 3’s, while flashing the well-rounded skills besides set shooting that got him drafted eighth overall.
- Third quarter struggles became the norm for the Kings. They were outscored in the third quarter by every team except the Knicks and Magic, which equated to a -43 differential on the trip. For whatever reason, Sacramento comes out of halftime with no defense, as opponents shot 57 percent on field goals and 44.9 on 3’s in the period.
By riding it out, the worst is over. The Kings can now regroup and prepare for the five-game home stand.