The Sacramento Kings have mastered the art of being consistently inconsistent. A quarter-by-quarter breakdown shows a Jekyll and Hyde team that is either on or way off. Monday night’s 113-99 loss to the Washington Wizards was a microcosm of this season.
Sacramento trailed by 8-2 to open the game and 17-10 midway through the quarter. Yet they managed to take a 35-34 lead going to the second.
The Wizards' John Wall set the early tempo for the contest, racing up and down the court at will. His ability to find the open man set the stage for a career-high 19 assist night for the All-Star point guard.
Wall’s main target early was center Marcin Gortat, who dropped 27 points and 16 rebounds on a sluggish Kings team.
“I would think that the film would show that he got a lot of shots in the open court,” Karl told reporters following the game. “Again, he outran us for three, four, maybe five easy ones. My feel was the open court was killing us. I think John Wall found him some, but I knew we had to give up something.”
The Kings were slow to get back and Gortat destroyed them by setting up in the paint early or just running the floor for the easy transition baskets. By halftime, the “Polish Hammer” had already dropped in 21 points on 9-of-10 shooting leading the Wizards into the locker room at half with a 63-59 advantage.
“I don’t feel we made any adjustments that we needed at times,” center DeMarcus Cousins said. “They came out early, but we still managed to keep it a game the entire time, until the end. Just out of sync, it was rough.”
[INSTANT REPLAY: Kings go cold in fourth, fall to Wizards]
Sacramento climbed back into the game in the third, finishing on a 8-0 run to tie the game going to the final frame. For a moment, it looked like the Kings had stolen momentum and might be able to come away with the big road victory.
Washington responded with an 8-0 run of their own to open the fourth and the Kings never recovered from the early gut punch.
“I thought we did a hell of a job until the beginning of the fourth,” Karl said. “We can talk about why we lost, but we were in the game, tied the score, made a nice run in the third quarter, ran out of gas and they made the first four or five possessions of the fourth quarter. They went up eight on us and that fatigued us.”
By the fourth, Sacramento had slowed Gortat by having players other than Cousins pick him up in transition, but in order to do that, they had to collapse the lane. Wall quickly picked up on the adjustment and found his perimeter shooters for open looks.
Washington lit the Kings up from the perimeter, knocking down 5-of-9 from behind the arc in the fourth and 14-of-24 overall. Garrett Temple smoked the Kings for 18 of his 23 points in the second half. He buried 5-for-10 from deep and power man Kris Humphries added a perfect 3-for-3 night from long range.
“I thought they ran better than we did,” Karl said. “I thought they passed it better than we did. We were trying to play similar and I think Rudy [Gay] and [DeMarcus] Cousins missed a lot of easy shots that they normally make. It’s a heavy load sometimes on the road when the other team is playing at a high level and your offense shuts down. [Rajon] Rondo didn’t have a great offensive game. I think the film will show some good stuff.”
Cousins had very little lift, Gay missed multiple dunk attempts and Omri Casspi looked completely out of sorts. Rondo struggled to score and was almost a complete non-factor in a game that pitted two of the game’s best point guards. Rondo left the game momentarily in the third to have his right ankle retaped after rolling it on an opponent's foot.
It’s hard to win when your best players come out flat on the road.
COUSINS CONTINUES TO STRUGGLE:
Cousins is not the same player that came out hot early in the season and dominated the competition. On Monday night, he looked completely fatigued for most of the game and even when he had a big moment, it was usually short-lived.
During the second quarter, Cousins hammered down a dunk on one end and before the shot clock could hit 20, Gortat had already finished on the other end for Washington.
Someone should have picked up Gortat running down the floor with Cousins finishing. But there were plenty of other times where the 31-year-old Gortat just out hustled Cousins in transition.
“I’m trying to find my way right now,” Cousins said. “This is new to me. This is a new playing style for me. I’m just trying to be coachable.”
The big man finished 8-of-22 from the field, dropping in 22 points and eight rebounds, but those are numbers he can get in his sleep. If Sacramento wants to compete for a playoff spot, they need Cousins at full-strength. Getting dominated by a player who averages 13 points and nine rebounds per game is not going to cut it.