Short-handed is an understatement. The Sacramento Kings walked into Portland without their horses and the Trail Blazers ran them off the court.
From the moment the Kings announced the DeMarcus Cousins, Rudy Gay and Rajon Rondo would take the night off, you knew it was going to be a long night. The final score of 105-93 doesn’t truly capture the look and feel of the game. Portland led by as many as 28 points as they pounded the Kings from the perimeter. The game was well decided by halftime.
Is this what we are to expect down the stretch from this Kings team? That’s very possible as Vlade Divac and George Karl navigate the balance between playing the team’s young players and being competitive.
Karl turned to Seth Curry in his starting lineup for the third consecutive game and the seldom used guard once again made his coach look foolish for not playing him earlier in the season.
Curry finished the night with a career-high 21 points on 9-of-17 shooting. Someone has to score when your two top scorers are sidelined, but it goes well beyond hitting shots. Curry played solid defense on C.J. McCollum and his basketball IQ is off the charts.
“I think I played okay,” Curry told reporters following the game. “Just making plays, trying to be more consistent from game to game and like I said, just go back and watch this tape and try to figure out different ways to get better. I think we got better as a team as the game went along, but they played well, they made a lot of shots, so it was tough to stay with them.”
Karl’s reluctance to play Curry has been well documented. When given the chance this season, Curry has performed, even receiving rave reviews from his coach. But be it injuries or Karl’s decision, he has found himself on the bench more often than not.
Curry’s confidence is building after another solid outing, but it has come with a bit of controversy.
Following the Kings victory over the Phoenix Suns on Friday night, Karl was asked what he thought Curry’s future was in the league. Instead of giving Curry a passing grade or even avoiding the question, Karl made his opinion known.
“He’s going to be around for a couple years,” Karl said. “He’s definitely going to have a few more years. He has tenacity to him, good basketball feel to him. Now, he just has to be confident and consistent. That’s a process; you got to get minutes to do that.”
Following the Kings win over the Mavericks on Sunday, DeMarcus Cousins dropped by Curry’s postgame interview with CSN’s Kayte Christensen to make his opinion known on the matter.
"You gon' be in this league a long time, boy, remember that," Cousins said with a big smile. "A long time."
Curry’s brother and NBA MVP Stephen Curry retweeted the video and threw his support behind both Cousins and his little brother.
Following the Kings loss to Portland, Karl was at it again, throwing more fuel on the fire.
“Seth had a solid game,” Karl said. “I think the whole thing for us, we needed probably our guards to make basketball plays for each other, other than what we got done tonight. I thought we made some good plays but we never made the kind of plays like the extra pass play, the extra-together, kind of 'we' play that motivates a team that has to overachieve to be good. We never got that kind of karma.”
Since joining the starting lineup, Curry has averaged 15.7 points, three rebounds and 1.7 assists. In the three games as a starter, he’s shooting 50 percent from the field and 46.7 percent from behind the arc. He has shown an ability to stay in front of his man on the defensive end and he rarely makes mistakes. He may or may not be an NBA starter long term, but the Kings are just now testing out what they have in Curry.
Curry has a player option for next season at a million dollars. Whether he chooses to opt in or out may be determined by who is coaching the team next season.
Curry isn’t the only young player under Karl who has found a lack of consistency with his minutes. Willie Cauley-Stein didn’t post another 20 point performance like he had in the previous two games, but the 6th overall selection in the 2015 NBA Draft is showing more and more of his arsenal every time out.
The rookie 7-footer posted his third double-double of the season, scoring 13 points on 6-of-12 shooting while grabbing a career-high 14 rebounds in the loss. Cauley-Stein played 33 minutes without Cousins eating up time in the post.
Over his last three games, Cauley-Stein is averaging 20 points and nine rebounds in 30 minutes a night. He’s a work in progress, but he's shown plenty of promise after playing sporadically throughout the entire season.