A reporter once asked former Sacramento Kings head coach Paul Westphal a simple question: “How do you change momentum?” Wesphal looked the reporter straight in the eye and told him, “If I knew how to control momentum, I wouldn’t be coaching basketball.”
It seems so easy. You win three straight at home. You head out on the road against an opponent that has lost four straight and eight out of nine. A team, mind you, that is just 3-10 on their home floor.
But like so many other times this season, the Sacramento Kings failed to continue their forward momentum and you could see it from the opening tip. Despite the positive vibe coming from Sacramento and the Timberwolves downward spiral, the home team prevailed by a final of 99-95.
“I don’t know,” Rajon Rondo told reporters following the game. “If I say anything, it’s an excuse and that’s what we can’t have. It’s frustrating to come out on the road, especially in the first game, and the first thing we can think about is a lack of energy to start the game. We’ve got to continue to look in the mirror and challenge ourselves, especially the starters to come out and get a better start.”
The Timberwolves came out hot, shooting over 70 percent for much of the first quarter. That pushed the lead to as many as 14 as the Kings looked lethargic and confused.
“I mean, we brought it on ourselves,” DeMarcus Cousins told reports following the game. “We know what we did wrong tonight. Very sluggish start. They hit us in the mouth early and we were fighting the rest of the game. When we put ourselves in situations like that, it’s hard to win games.”
Minnesota played fast, they played together and they played with a confidence. Second-year wing Andrew Wiggins punished the Kings, dropping in 12 of his game-high 32 in the game’s first 12 minutes.
“It was just no energy,” George Karl said. “No focus on anything, on preparation, on whatever pro reaction to Wiggins, pro reaction to Towns. We had to be punched before we reacted. I don’t know if we’re good enough to do that on the road.”
Towns dropped nine points on 4-of-5 shooting and grabbed five rebounds in the first. It was Towns’ first matchup against Cousins, a fellow Kentucky alum, and he came out swinging. The top pick in the 2015 NBA Draft has star written all over him. At one point, Cousins got so frustrated he kicked a chair on the Kings bench.
“We’ve got to win the games we’re supposed to win,” Cousins told reporters. “We’ve got to treat every team the same, whether it’s below .500 or it’s a top team in the conference. It’s on us. We can’t have starts the way we did.”
After two weeks of success and plenty of rest for the Kings, it’s back to square one. At 10-16, they will circle this game as one of a handful that got away early in the season, but this one stings.
“To win on the road, there’s a thin margin of success,” Karl said. “I don’t think we’re respected enough sometimes. We don’t have a focus to complete the win, complete the success.”
Next up on the schedule is the 17-11 Toronto Raptors on Sunday who are coming off a big win against the Miami Heat on Friday. The Kings travel to Washington DC to take on the Wizards on Monday for the second night of a back-to-back. The Kings are 0-6 on the second game of a back-to-back this season.
A loss to Minnesota sets up a long week of road games heading into the holidays. There is a big difference between walking into Sunday’s game riding a four-game win streak and scrambling to recover after a disappointing loss.
Once again, the Sacramento Kings have found a way to lose momentum. With a tough stretch ahead, they are going to have to find a way to recover and move forward.
The Kings have no excuse for being a bad rebounding team. They tout one of the game’s best rebounders in Cousins. Rondo is second to only Russell Westbrook in rebounding by point guards. Kosta Koufos is a one of the best third bigs in the league and they have plenty of athletic bodies that can mix it up on the glass.
This team should be better than the 20th best rebounding team in the league. Maybe it’s a team rebounding issue or the fact that they start two small forwards on the frontline. Maybe it’s the fact that half the team is abandoning the paint trying to get out on the break on every possession. There are plenty of other excuses they could point to, but something has to change.
Minnesota came in ranked 16th in the league in rebounding at 44.4 rebounds per game and just 18th on the offensive glass at 10.3 per contest. On Friday night, the Kings made the Timberwolves look like the best rebounding team in the league.
“The first half, I don’t know what the edge was at halftime, but I thought our activity in the first half created a big rebounding hole,” Karl said.
The T-Wolves outrebounded the Kings 21-15 in the sluggish first half. And then things went downhill.
“In the second half, they had some offensive rebounds that hurt us,” Karl said. “The ball was bouncing kind of crazy. I think we may have missed some tough shots and the ball had bounced around and we got out-worked there.”
Minnesota out-hustled and out-worked the Kings on the boards after the intermission. In a four-point contest, the Timberwolves pounded the Kings to the tune of a 28-16 rebounding advantage.
In the fourth quarter alone, the T-Wolves beat the Kings 16-9 on the glass, including four huge offensive boards that helped them salt the game away.
The only stat that stands out in this loss is the Timberwolves 49-31 advantage on the glass. That’s a tough pill to swallow.
The Sacramento Kings just squandered a golden opportunity in Minnesota. Now they have to recover and prove that they are better than the team that dropped to 1-7 to start the season or the club that fell to 7-15 just two weeks ago. If they come back from their four-game trip at 10-19, more chaos is on the horizon.