A sold out Sleep Train Arena was the scene for yet another installment of the Sacramento Kings-Los Angeles Lakers rivalry. As usual, this one went down to the wire. After a torrid first half, Sacramento looked poised to once again feed off the raucous crowd and possibly steal a victory from the hated Lakers. But unfortunately, the Kings left their brains in the locker room at halftime. Sacramento totally fell apart, starting with a turnover-filled third quarter and concluding with awful late game execution. Los Angeles got a much needed 103-98 victory as it fights to hang on to the West’s 8th seed.
THE FINAL MOMENTS – Just a terrible last minute for the Kings. After recovering from a seven-point deficit early in the final quarter, Sacramento gained possession with 53 seconds left, needing just two points to tie the game. Tyreke Evans (43 MIN, 21 PTS, 9-15 FG, 9 REB, 6 AST, 4 TO) enjoyed a successful night getting to the rim, but he got out of control on this drive, was swarmed by the Lakers defenders and turned the ball over under the basket. On the ensuing trip, Kobe Bryant got a gift foul with ref Zach Zarba whistling John Salmons for an elbow brush seconds after Bryant’s errant jumper bricked off the backboard. Now down three, the Kings did what any sane team would do — draw up a three-point attempt for DeMarcus Cousins (39 MIN, 19 PTS, 8-20 FG, 11 REB, 2 AST, 3 TO). It was either that or Cousins ignored the gameplan and went rogue. In any case, Cousins got Howard in the air and made a feeble attempt to get the foul call — maybe you think that’s a foul, I say no chance. Desperate. Cousins got the ball back with 13 seconds. And of course, he threw up another long ball. Unbelievably poor decision making by the Kings center. Plenty of time to reset, find a guard, go for a quick two or you know, let a real three-point shooter try for the tie. For good measure, after two Bryant free throws pushed the lead to five, Cousins ended up taking another three-pointer in the waning moments. This is on Keith Smart either way. Either he drew up a brutal play that called for Cousins taking three-pointers. Or Cousins did it on his own, in which case Smart has to get a handle on his team. Incredibly disappointing to lose a game that way.
THIRD QUARTER BLUES – The Kings played at a breakneck pace in the first half, scoring 37 points in the first quarter alone. Yet they only turned the ball over three times in the half. That made it even more maddening when Sacramento went completely sloppy in the third quarter. Seven turnovers in the third quarter. Tyreke Evans dribbled into trouble, and DeMarcus Cousins was a complete loose cannon, turning the ball over three times in the span of 1:43. It’s bad enough when he’s winging crazy passes to defended teammates. But how many times does he have to get pick-pocketed while trying to be point guard? Does Isaiah Thomas ever go in the post? No, he’s not a center. So why does Cousins insist on dribbling the ball up court? Find a guard, and if he doesn’t, someone has got to be in his ear.
ISAIAH’S ABSENCE – I understand the reasoning behind Keith Smart’s late-game lineup; each player had a role that needed to be filled. But it’s hard to justify sitting Isaiah Thomas (25 MIN, 10 PTS, 3-5 FG, 5 AST) in crunch time given the way he’s played over the past few weeks. He has carried the Kings and did nothing tonight to earn a demotion. Tyreke and Marcus Thornton were relied on for scoring, John Salmons did an excellent job on Kobe, and Patrick Patterson and Cousins were needed to guard the Lakers twin towers. But this might have been a night where Smart should have gotten creative. Go small, take out Patterson (or Cousins), play a zone, hack-a-Dwight, move Tyreke to Kobe and Salmons to Gasol, who was primarily playing on the perimeter. Anything to get Thomas on the court should have been explored because that guy has been the team’s best player since the All-Star break.
OTHER OBSERVATIONS – For maybe the first time as a member of the Kings, Patrick Patterson (20 MIN, 0 PTS, 0-4 FG, 4 REB, 1 BLK) was ice cold. He missed some key wide open looks down the stretch that have been absolute cash since he got to Sac … Thornton (26 MIN, 18 PTS, 6-15 FG, 7 REB) was off from the perimeter, but credit to him for battling underneath and on the glass. That’s a mark of a true scorer — finding ways to score when the shot isn’t falling … Jason Thompson (24 MIN, 15 PTS, 7-10 FG, 4 REB) had the early touch but foul trouble tripped him up.