Thankfully, the Sacramento Kings are done playing the Denver Nuggets this season. Early on, this one appeared headed down the same path of the teams’ previous meetings. The Kings fell behind by double digits in the first half, as the Nuggets fast-breaking style seemed once again insurmountable. But credit to Sacramento — the Kings kept battling, and after a gritty second half run, they went ahead. Unfortunately, the joy was short lived. Denver connected on more baskets down the stretch, and the Kings made some very untimely mistakes. The Nuggets took the 101-95 win, their 15th straight victory.
ROCK SOLID COUSINS – Really, DeMarcus Cousins (36 MIN, 24 PTS, 10-16 FG, 15 REB, 3 AST, 5 BLK, 6 TO) was the Kings only reliable weapon in this one. Sacramento recognized this fact and targeted him solely down the stretch. It doesn’t happen often, but the Kings ran their offense through Cousins in the low post with the game on the line. For the most part, the results were positive. Cousins showed some calm, effective post moves — a baseline drive, a nice half hook and some vicious jams — that Kings fans would love to see more of. There was a downside — Cousins’ carelessness with the ball — but on the whole, DMC fought hard, handled the physical nature of the game and gave the Kings a real chance to win.
NO GUARDS, NO WIN – In a fast paced game, you need your guards to control the game and put points on the board. The Kings didn’t get that. Isaiah Thomas (33 MIN, 10 PTS, 3-12 FG, 9 AST, 2 TO) never got his own offense going, and he unforgivably lost track of Andre Miller in the final minute during a must-stop defensive possession for the Kings. Tyreke Evans (23 MIN, 4 PTS, 2-5 FG, 2 REB, 2 AST) was a total non-factor and found himself on the bench during crunch time. And Marcus Thornton (31 MIN, 10 PTS, 4-13 FG, 0-5 3FG, 2 REB, 2 TO) was completely ineffective. Aside from his struggles from the perimeter, Thornton also had a key giveaway in the fourth quarter that stunted the Kings chances. With Ty Lawson sitting out with injury, the Kings guards had a chance to be the better unit, but their failure to do so sunk the team.
SMART’S LINE CHANGE – With Sacramento falling behind by as much as 12 in the first quarter, Keith Smart employed his “five-for-five” substitution pattern that has been generally phased out over the past few weeks. On Saturday, the move paid some early dividends. Jimmer Fredette (10 MIN, 6 PTS, 3-5 FG) and Travis Outlaw (8 MIN, 7 PTS, 3-6 FG) surprisingly provided some offense, and Cole Aldrich provided his now typical physical performance underneath. The Kings reserves cut the deficit to two. Unfortunately, the well ran dry pretty quickly — Travis Outlaw let fame get to his head and missed three consecutive jumpers. The starters returned, and the Nuggets went right back to picking them apart.
OTHER OBSERVATIONS – Smart also showed allegiance to Jason Thompson (26 MIN, 6 PTS, 3-11 FG, 4 REB) down the stretch when none should have been shown. Thompson played a poor game, and while Patrick Patterson (20 MIN, 7 PTS, 3-4 FG, 4 REB, 2 AST) wasn’t much better, his threat from the outside would have been much more valuable … Toney Douglas (5 MIN, 0 PTS, 3 AST, 1 TO) turned in a bad five-minute stint in the second half. He got trapped twice, once having to call a timeout and once committing a backcourt violation … The Kings made just 9-of-17 from the free throw line.