The Kings battled again without DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay, but there wasn’t enough in the tank to get a win against the Thunder.
“Seems like we get to about the 40-minute mark and I don’t know if it is fatigue or mistakes,” Kings coach George Karl told the media after a 116-103 loss.
“I thought we gave up too many easy baskets, easy layups, you know with trying to double-team Westbrook and then a couple offensive rebounds and turnovers. I thought the turnovers actually came when the game got into the eight or nine area. The defensive rebounds got them the lead.
"But I was kind of proud of the effort and the energy of the game. I thought Ray (McCallum) and Ben (McLemore) played very well together. Andre (Miller) gave us a lift. We could have found a way to win the game if some things would have fallen better for us.”
Sacramento is now 4-16 without Cousins, 2-9 without Gay and 0-2 without both in the lineup this season.
Oklahoma City is without last year’s MVP Kevin Durant and also Serge Ibaka but still has Russell Westbrook, who had a game-high 27 points, as well as 10 assists for a double-double.
The Thunder (43-36) needed the win to keep pace with New Orleans (43-36), who holds the tiebreaker for the final Western Conference playoff spot.
"We had to come out with an aggressive mindset on both ends of the floor,” Ray McCallum told reporters at Chesapeake Energy Arena. “Me, trying to control him as much as I can.
“Obviously, he's (Westbrook) an All-Star level player, running for the MVP, and they had a lot on the line trying to get that last spot. So, we knew he was going to be aggressive. As a whole, we tried to contain him as much as we could, but down the stretch he made big shots and big plays for his team, and they were able to come out with the win.
"I was trying to be aggressive. Just coming out being aggressive on both ends of the floor. I was getting good looks at the rim. Looking for my shot. Trying to get my guys involved. Just trying to run my team. Just be aggressive. We just fell a little bit short tonight."
The Kings' defense remains inconsistent. Allowing 34 points in the first and fourth quarters. Sacramento buckled down in the second and third limiting the Thunder to 23 and 25 points, respectively.
"I just got to go out there and compete every night against these talented guys,” Ben McLemore told reporters. “So I just want to go out there and do what I got to do, and stop them in different ways, and find a way, and learn from it. It's all a learning experience for me. So, I just got to continue to get better.
"As a team we have to continue to get better, and lock-in on what we have to do."
Sacramento’s coach, who joined the team at the All-Star break, is sensitive to the rigors of this campaign that is winding down.
“I mean this has been a heavy year for them as players,” Karl said. “Three coaches, three different philosophies, turmoil, losing, injuries, your best player getting meningitis, I mean it’s kind of been a crazy karma and when the game starts, I think it was our home game against Utah that I was really kind of disappointed with the effort, but other than that I think they are trying to get better.
"I think we are getting better but our schedule has been brutal.”
Ray McCallum bounced back after a tough outing on Wednesday going for 17 points, six rebounds, four assists and just one turnover.
Ben McLemore scored 20 points and Derrick Williams added 17 points, including 13 in the second half.
Sacramento outscored Oklahoma City 46-42 in the paint, 21-18 in second-chance points and 18-17 in fast break points.
The Kings outrebounded OKC 50-47.
Sacramento held the Thunder to 23 and 25 points respectively in the second and third quarters.
Allowing 34 points in the first quarter was tough to recover from and Oklahoma City putting up another 34 in the final stanza doomed Sacramento.
The inability to cool off Anthony Morrow, who came off the bench scoring 19 points, including 5-for-10 from 3-point range, proved devastating.
It’s difficult to win in the NBA without three starters. And toiling without Cousins and Gay, as well as Darren Collison, who last played back on Feb. 5, not only hurts your win-loss record, but also in adapting to Karl’s system.
However, injuries are a constant in the NBA and the Kings once again gave good effort but just didn’t make enough plays to get the job done at Chesapeake Energy Arena.