To play as well as the Kings did Friday night and lose is very disappointing. Sacramento did nearly everything right. They finally came out of the gate with some energy, thanks to a much-needed lineup change. They got studly performances offensively from a number of players. But late game execution was the Kings downfall. It only took a couple poor offensive possessions in the fourth quarter and a few defensive letdowns for the game to slip out of the Kings grasp. The 114-108 loss sends Sacramento to 0-3 on its six-game road trip.
ENTER ISAIAH – Keith Smart finally gave into the calls of myself and countless other Kings fans, and he sent John Salmons to the bench. Isaiah Thomas (13 PTS, 4 AST, 4 REB) got the start, and what a difference an energetic pure point guard makes on the court. Sacramento got out and really pushed the tempo. Every rebound was quickly outletted and the Kings turned a number of these passes into fast break points. Not only was Isaiah orchestrating the offense, he also delivered his typical hustle to the glass and defensively. The Kings have been starting games terribly, falling into deep holes that prove to be insurmountable. Isaiah changed that and you can only hope that this move sticks for the long term. The only question: Should Isaiah have been in the game down the stretch? Smart claims he needed Salmons to guard Tayshaun Prince, but Tyreke Evans could have easily slid to the “3″ to handle those responsibilities.
A BALANCED ATTACK – One residual effect of Isaiah Thomas’ starting lineup presence may have been a more balanced scoring output. Thomas raced the ball up court and found players when they were open. Tyreke (16 PTS, 9 AST, 6 REB) slashing to the basket, Marcus Thornton (24 PTS, 4 REB, 3 STL) on the perimeter, Cousins under the basket. All you can ask for from Thomas is to create open looks for teammates. This season, guys have not been hitting but against Detroit, Sacramento hit 50 percent from the floor. All five starters scored at least 13 points, while Jimmer Fredette chipped in 9 points off the bench in 19 minutes. It’s very simple: the more weapons you have contributing, the harder you are to guard.
STOPPING THE PISTONS BACKCOURT – The Pistons leading scorer is center Greg Monroe, and the Kings held the second-year man to just 3 points. Unfortunately, Sacramento had no answer for Detroit’s backcourt. Rodney Stuckey attacked the basket and Brandon Knight fired away from outside as the pair poured in 59 combined points. With Isaiah Thomas in the lineup, backcourt defense should have been more than adequate. But staying in front of Stuckey proved to be a serious problem for Thomas, Evans and Thornton. The Kings have no true shot blocker to help out when a guard gets loose, and it burned the team tonight.
OTHER OBSERVATIONS – It’s becoming old hat to praise DeMarcus Cousins (26 PTS, 15 REB, 3 AST) but he deserves every bit of adulation. DMC just fights and fights. No plays off. Smart acknowledged that Cousins needed more touches down the stretch … J.J. Hickson played 7 minutes, then failed to follow Salmons on a clear breakaway and was pulled by Smart for the rest of the night. Unfair, if you ask me. The problem with Hickson has never been his energy level or effort … Donte Greene, who has been playing solid ball, was a DNP-CD victim.