Once again, the Kings must live with the disappointment of losing a very winnable game. Kicking off the new year and a four-game road trip in Detroit, Sacramento fell behind by double digits in the second quarter, as the bench provided absolutely nothing on both ends. With the hole dug, the Kings scrambled to get back into it and did so as the game reached its final five minutes. But the late run was thwarted by poor late game execution, and the Pistons dropped Sacramento, 103-97.
EXAMINING THE ROTATION – This could be a nightly column, but it’s only that way because Keith Smart provides plenty of questionable decisions. In the first quarter, the Kings played Detroit evenly, and the starters exited with the game tight. It became clear rather quickly that the reserves had nothing going, but instead of making immediate changes, Smart watched the game get out of hand before taking them out. It’s head-scratching to play a lineup with Chuck Hayes, Thomas Robinson and James Johnson (combined 33 MIN, 6 PTS, 3-9 FG) in the frontcourt and wonder why no offense is being generated. Then in the fourth quarter, Smart let the bench battle back and get the game within striking distance. It’s understandable to let that unit try to close it out, but minor tweaks are OK. In this instance, DeMarcus Cousins should have been brought back into the game with at least three minutes left, replacing Travis Outlaw. It’s easy to point the finger at Coach, and he shouldn’t bear the entire blame, but his decisions, at best, are debatable.
DMC, THE MODEL CITIZEN – DeMarcus Cousins (36 MIN, 21 PTS, 10-21 FG, 14 REB, 2 AST, 2 TO, 3 STL) played a near flawless game, and everything about his effort, production and demeanor was exemplary. It made you think that maybe the suspension had some effect on him. Complaining about calls was minimal — DMC even raised his hand to accept a foul — and he worked his butt off down low to keep the Kings alive. Additionally, Cousins was supremely effective finishing around the basket — great use of head fakes and up-and-unders, using power to throw it down and staying controlled while taking contact. It was like a different player. If Cousins brings that to the table every night, there is never a question about trading him.
LET JIMMER COOK – The biggest difference between the second unit in the first half and second half was the play of Jimmer Fredette (24 MIN, 14 PTS, 4-10 FG, 3-5 3FG, 1 AST). With Tyreke Evans and Marcus Thornton sidelined, the Kings needed someone on the bench to provide offense. In the first half, they didn’t find it. But Fredette stepped up big time to get Sacramento back in it. He did a decent of creating his own shot, but it would have really been beneficial if someone set a hard pick for him. Jimmer established his hot hand and needed just a few inches of space. James Johnson, Travis Outlaw or Jason Thompson should have been stepping out on every possession to help their teammate. As it was, Fredette was very impressive, and his growth over the past few weeks has been one of the brighter spots on the entire team.
OTHER OBSERVATIONS – Inscribe Charlie Villanueva on the Kings permanent “$#!^” list. His classless, dirty elbow to an airborne Isaiah Thomas ignited a mini scuffle, as the Kings rightly took exception to the cheap shot. Call it payback for the Thomas Robinson elbow a couple months ago, OK, but trying to purposely injure maybe the Kings most likeable player wasn’t going to fly. Villanueva didn’t fully connect, but it reminded me of the Karl Malone elbow to (the other) Isiah Thomas years ago. He should be suspended … Aaron Brooks, you’re a veteran player. You don’t need the coach’s direction at the end of games when it comes to fouling. You obviously should know not to purposely foul with your team down three points and 45 seconds left. Inexcusable … After a hot shooting first quarter, the Kings finished at a poor 41.9 percent clip, ruined by a brutal third quarter … Isaiah Thomas (26 MIN, 12 PTS, 4-10 FG, 2-5 3FG, 2 REB, 2 AST) played decently, but his four turnovers likely kept him on the bench during crunch time. Aaron Brooks (22 MIN, 7 PTS, 2-8 FG, 1-6 3FG, 3 REB, 3 AST, 1 TO) made a couple of timely baskets, but his decision making in the final minutes was downright bad.