When you look back on this one, the Kings really played three awful quarters. But fueled by a bench that stepped on the accelerator in the second quarter, Sacramento shot to a 19-point lead and seemed primed for a satisfying road victory. Unfortunately, the Kings basketball that fans are accustomed to seeing was far too prevalent. Spotty defense, questionable coaching and an offensive collapse turned a winnable game into a double-digit loss, as Sac fell to the Suns, 101-90.
UPTEMPO RESERVES – After a flat start reminiscent of many recent Kings games, Keith Smart turned to a bench unit spearheaded by Isaiah Thomas and Jimmer Fredette. The two energetic guards immediately injected life onto the floor. Sacramento got out and ran, something that has been sorely lacking from a team so poor at halfcourt sets. Thomas (23 MIN, 6 PTS, 3-10 FG, 3 AST, 1 TO, 3 REB) ran some of his best plays, getting out in transition and finding teammates with nifty passes. Fredette (22 MIN, 22 PTS, 7-13 FG, 3-5 3FG, 5-5 FT, 3 REB) was a marksman exuding confidence, burying jumpers and taking guys off the dribble for short pull-ups. Inside, James Johnson and Thomas Robinson provided enormous energy; Johnson (21 MIN, 11 PTS, 5-6 FG, 3 REB, 2 STL, 3 BLK) played maybe his best game of the season. It was a unit that deserved a far better fate.
CALLING OUT COACH – OK, time for the nightly grilling of Keith Smart. The third quarter was one of the more perplexing from a fan’s point of view. Was Smart even watching? Why wait until a 19-point lead has completely evaporated before making changes? The Kings, as they are known to do, came out lifeless in the second half. After three minutes, the lead was down to eight, and everyone could clearly see the momentum changing quickly. But Smart stuck with the starters. It’s not as if this was a Tyreke Evans-Marcus Thornton lineup in which you give them respect and let them work out of it. Francisco Garcia and John Salmons (combined 4-13 FG, 12 PTS) were on the floor, and the play stunk. Seven minutes into the half, the Kings had made two field goals, the lead was Phoenix’s and the starters were still playing. Makes absolutely no sense not to have made changes prior to that. A quick scan of the plus/minus ratios: Brooks -20, Garcia -8, Salmons -17, Cousins -15, Thompson -7. Bench: Hayes +1, Thomas +6, Fredette +5, Johnson +3. Sorry, Coach, that’s not good enough.
DMC’S DISASTER – DeMarcus Cousins (26 MIN, 9 PTS, 1-10 FG, 10 REB, 0 AST, 3 TO) was abyssmal Monday night. It was a game where not only was the big man not helping; he was a total detriment. Marcin Gortat was the brick wall that Cousins insisted on banging his head against all game long. Forced, out of control takes to the basket with no hope at all were the norm. Defensively, Cousins was non-existent in the middle of the paint, and fouls were a problem. DMC isn’t going find a rhythm every game, but it’s on him to recognize that and continue moving the ball. Find open teammates. Do whatever possible to help the team. Cousins didn’t do that. Despite the struggles, it was one-on-one ball all night. Not good enough. The lack of progression in Cousins’ game is becoming somewhat alarming.
OTHER OBSERVATIONS – The Kings defense in the second half continually broke down, allowing the Suns to let it rain from the perimeter. Those late threes sealed the game for Phoenix … Further props to James Johnson, who really played a solid game on both ends. Someone just tell him to stop pretending he’s a point guard … Aaron Brooks (30 MIN, 12 PTS, 6-11 FG, 3 AST, 3 REB, 1 TO) was the only starter who was worth playing. He didn’t get the outside shot to drop but it was good to see him play aggressively on offense, yet stay under control for the most part … Jimmer needs to play more than 22 minutes when he’s the best source of offense … Thornton is expected to return for the Kings next game Wednesday.