While miracles weren’t expected in less than 48 hours after firing coach Michael Malone over “philosophical differences,” as cited by GM Pete D’Alessandro, familiar themes persisted in a Kings 104-92 loss to the Thunder on Tuesday.
Sacramento dug a 9-0 hole versus Oklahoma City initiated by a Russell Westbrook dunk 20 seconds into the game off a Kings turnover.
“Turnovers, the mistakes we made -- it was bad execution,” said interim coach Tyrone Corbin. “We had 19 turnovers for 26 points. That’s one of the things that we’ve been concentrating on all year and we have to continue in order to get better.”
The Kings lost their fourth straight game and fell to 2-8 without DeMarcus Cousins, who participated in his first full practice on Monday since being sidelined with viral meningitis.
However, Cousins remained out of the lineup versus OKC.
Conversely, the Thunder extended their winning streak to seven games and in similar fashion to Kyle Lowry, Tobias Harris, Kobe Bryant and James Harden, the Kings were once again victimized by opportunistic play and freakish talent -- this time by Westbrook and Kevin Durant who combined for 58 points.
“It was very difficult,” said Darren Collison on defending Westbrook and Durant. “They’ve been having it going the last several games or so. That’s a very, very good team; they’re hungry. They seem like they have a motor . . . We got a chance to go against a team that’s been battle-tested, playoff-tested -– we just didn’t get the results we wanted.”
“Durant and Westbrook are two of the best players in this league and they’re going to have runs,” commented Corbin. “They’re going to make plays and we just have to continue fighting and trying to make them work hard for everything that they get.”
The Kings' inconsistent defense was also on display.
Oklahoma City put up 61 points in the first 24 minutes after scoring 70 first-half points in its two games prior to Tuesday night.
However, Sacramento held the Thunder to just 43 second-half points as Corbin cited “better pick-and-roll coverage.”
Ironically, in contrast to Malone’s stubborn defensive nature that led to his ultimate demise, Thunder coach Scott Brooks credited defense for Oklahoma City’s success.
"Defense, it's all about D,” said Brooks. “We are winning these games because we are committed to defensive basketball."
Sacramento did demonstrate resilience, which has been a mainstay this season, eventually taking a lead in the fourth quarter. But, yet again, the Kings couldn’t finish the deal.
“We had that one-point lead, then they made a 9-0 run,” said Corbin on the 86-85 Kings lead on a Carl Landry jumper with 7:38 to go in the game. “You have to make runs, and we did against those guys, but you can’t afford to turn the ball over.”
“I thought that our guys fought back,” Corbin added. “We had a chance to win the game.”
Ultimately, the Kings' roster, along with the rest of the NBA, were caught by surprise with Malone’s dismissal. But Sacramento must turn the page.
“We can’t make excuses,” said Kings forward Carl Landry who contributed 14 points in the loss. “Not having coach Malone, not having coach Jent and the change –- we’ve just got to be a better team.”
“This is a good group of guys that have been together for a while, been in the NBA for a while, very mature and we understand how to win. We’ve just got to do a better job of executing on both ends of the floor.”
THE GOOD: The Kings battled back from a 16-point deficit and eventually took the lead in the fourth quarter.
THE BAD: Sacramento’s propensity for turnovers to the tune of 19 blunders, leading to 26 Oklahoma City points.
THE TAKE: With Cousins’ full participation in Monday’s practice, his return appears imminent and will certainly be a boon for Sacramento.
However, a 9-6 start before Cousins’ illness, plus 11 wins at the quarter mark of the season with quality wins over the Bulls, Blazers, Clippers and Spurs weren’t enough for Malone to keep his job.
That begs the question: What other changes will we see in Sacramento if the only thing that increases in California’s capital city is the pace of play and not the wins?