The Sacramento Kings second go-round with a shorthanded roster was much like the first. With the Denver Nuggets in town, defense became an optional part of the game for both sides. But where the Nuggets executed and took advantage of porous Sacramento defense, the Kings simply ran out of horses. While their offense kept things close throughout, the Kings just couldn’t get the baskets they needed down the stretch, and when you get no crucial stops to speak of, the result is easy to predict. Denver grabbed a 125-117 victory Sunday night at Sleep Train Arena.
NUGGETS PICK KINGS APART – Against the Indiana Pacers, the Kings effort and hard work produced positive results. Against the Nuggets, you could tell the guys were playing hard, trying to make up for the absences of DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay, but the execution was just awful. And Denver was machine-like in its ability to exploit these weaknesses. Whether in halfcourt or out in transition, the Nuggets torched Sacramento. The pick-and-roll was Denver’s weapon of choice — Ty Lawson used screens and his own quickness to penetrate the Kings defense, then found options underneath (Kenneth Faried) or gunners on the wing (Wilson Chandler). To make matters worse, the Kings were very sloppy with their own offense in the early-going, and Denver showed why it loves to get out and run, killing the Kings in the paint. Sacramento made far too many poor decisions defensively, and it cost them a chance to win.
KINGS OFFENSE STALLS – With Gay and Cousins missing, it’s been a tough adjustment for the Kings offense. Isaiah Thomas (36 MIN, 22 PTS, 7-21 FG, 1-6 3FG, 5 REB, 8 AST, 3 TO) again shouldered a massive load against Denver, and it’s understandable that his efficiency was less than stellar. Turnovers were a team-wide problem for the Kings in the first half — just sloppy cross-court or blind passes with low chances of success. Down the stretch, scoring became a bigger problem. The Kings managed just three made field goals in the final six minutes of the game. Previous hot hands disappeared, makeable shots rimmed out and the Nuggets downed their free throws to ice the game.
SHOOTING GUARDS PROVIDE A LIFT – The injuries to Gay and Cousins are obviously bad, but a saving grace might be that Marcus Thornton has used the extra opportunities to get his groove back. As he did against Indiana, Thornton (28 MINS, 19 PTS, 8-13 FG, 2 REB) relished the bigger role and was a go-to player for the Kings. He scored on some nifty mid-range jumpers and really looked confident in his game. Off the bench, Ben McLemore played one of his best games of the season. His beautiful stroke was on target, and his confidence level rose. Most of his shots were off the curl, but he also had some nice takes to the basket to show his aggressiveness. When Gay and Cousins return, Thornton may be ready to be a positive contributor, making the Kings even more potent offensively. And if McLemore can get something going off the bench, that would be gravy.
OTHER OBSERVATIONS – Rebounding was another strong suit for the Kings. Jason Thompson (28 MINS, 13 PTS, 5-7 FG, 10 REB) was a presence on the glass, and Derrick Williams (31 MIN, 12 PTS, 3-5 FG, 6-7 FT, 8 REB, 2 STL, 1 BLK) really stepped up, using his athleticism to clean the boards … Aaron Gray (25 MIN, 6 PTS, 3-4 FG, 8 REB, 5 AST, 2 STL, 3 TO) managed to dish five assists, but really, he’s proven to be shaky with the ball in his hands. It’s just not his comfort zone, especially if he has to put it on the floor …. Carl Landry’s quest to regain his form hit a wall against Denver. Landry (19 MIN, 6 PTS, 1-4 FG, 2 REB, 2 STL) missed an easy dunk because he could get no lift, and his cup-of-tea jumpers from the elbow just wouldn’t fall … Jimmer Fredette (11 MIN, 7 PTS, 3-5 FG, 2 AST, 2 TO) oscillated between a competent NBA player and a sloppy ball-handler. His own shot looked good, but his lead guard skills, which have been strong of late, were lacking in this one … Both teams shot an identical 42-of-81 (51.9 percent) from the field. Denver hit six more three-pointers and two more free throws.