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An overall five-game winning streak (that included a three-game road winning streak) was snapped on Sunday night and Sacramento’s deficiencies were exposed in the Kings' 101-93 loss to the injury-decimated Thunder.
Sacramento was exploited in several areas by Oklahoma City, which played without Kevin Durant, Russell Westbrook and five other players all out with injury.
In the first quarter, Oklahoma City shot 59 percent from the floor and 63 percent from downtown on their way to a 24-17 lead.
On Friday, the Kings overcame allowing 36 points on 68 percent shooting by the Suns in the first 12 minutes, eventually winning in double overtime.
Offensively, Sacramento struggled from the floor, shooting 35 percent including going 1-for-6 from 3-point range.
“We have to understand that we aren’t that good to just ease our way into the game and try to comeback," point guard Darren Collison said. "We have good players, but as far as a team, we haven’t accomplish anything.
"We really don’t have any excuse to start the games really slow.”
Sacramento entered the game second in the league in defensive rebounding and leading the NBA in overall rebounding, but Oklahoma City was the aggressor Sunday night.
Surprisingly, the Kings gave up eight offensive rebounds and faced a rebound margin of minus-eight at halftime against the Thunder.
“They played very physical," Kings coach Michael Malone said. "The game plan was to beat us up and to be physical. Every game takes on its own personality. We did not respond very well to that."
The rebounding problem negated Sacramento’s ability to control the tempo and to run in transition. Ultimately, the Kings couldn’t avoid the Thunder’s zone defense.
It was the first game of the season in which the Kings were outrebounded, 40-37.
Ineffective zone offense and poor 3-point shooting
In a surprise to no one, Oklahoma City employed a zone defense as Sacramento struggled to a 6-for-24 downtown performance.
“I talked about it before the game; the guys see zone and they panic," Malone said. "I don’t understand that at all. You’re an NBA player, you see zone, and you play basketball.
"I don’t think we had the right mindset even to start the game, before they went to the zone. They don’t go zone until they go to their big lineup off the bench."
Until the Kings improve their 3-point shooting, Sacramento needs to overcome the deleterious effects of the zone on its offense:
• It limits touches for DeMarcus Cousins
• It results in mostly perimeter ball movement
• It encourages Sacramento to settle for jump shots
Ben McLemore proved to be Sacramento’s lone threat from downtown shooting 4-for-6 from 3-point range.
Only seven games in, it’s extremely early in Nik Stauskas’ NBA career. And while Malone has praised his defense, Stauskas is 5-for-20 from downtown.
The Canadian shot 44 percent from 3-point range at Michigan. Clearly, the sooner the Kings get consistent offensive production from last year’s Big 10 player of the year, the better.
Improvement has lagged from beyond the arc as the Kings are currently ranked last in the NBA after finishing tied for 27th in the league in 3-point shooting percentage last season.
Over-reliance on leaders
Malone had DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay on the floor for just over seven minutes in the final quarter.
“They were both gassed," Malone said. "That group exerted so much energy getting us back in the game in that third quarter that we had to get them both out.
"Rudy played the whole quarter and Cousins played most of the quarter. When I talk about trust, it can’t be just a hollow word. I have to show that I trust my guys and give them the opportunity to play. If it is not going well, then I will make the necessary adjustments.
"We have to defend their bench and our bench has to be ready to play when called upon.”
THE GOOD: Malone was delighted by Sacramento’s stellar third quarter.
“I thought the third quarter was a great quarter for us," Malone said. "We held them to about 33 percent, 15 or 16 points, and we cut the lead to two."
It was on the strength of a 13-0 run after Oklahoma City extended its lead to 17 points.
The Kings also got physical with a plus-six rebound margin in the third period.
THE BAD: Fourth-quarter defensive -- a point of emphasis for Malone -- plagued the Kings.
“To give up 34 points in the fourth quarter is unacceptable in a close game on the road." Malone said. "We just have to ... play our game and be ready to play for as close to 48 minutes as possible.”
The Kings allowed 101 points to the Thunder, who entered the game last in the NBA in scoring, averaging 90.5 points per game.
THE TAKE: Sacramento (5-2) faces two teams on the remainder of its four game road trip -- Dallas (4-3) on Tuesday and in Memphis (6-1) on Thursday -- that will test the Kings' mettle.
Sacramento needs to improve before the luster of its surprising start fades.
However, even a split of the road trip will be a sign of progress as Sacramento tries to improve upon back-to-back 28-win seasons.