The scheduling gods have not been kind to the Sacramento Kings, but they haven’t been kind to themselves either as of late.
Turnovers led to the Kings’ demise versus Memphis on Sunday (the NBA’s best team), and defense doomed Sacramento versus Toronto on Tuesday (the NBA's best team in the Eastern Conference) in what was a 117-109 loss at Sleep Train Arena.
It was the Kings' (9-9) fourth consecutive loss, while the Raptors (14-4) snapped their first two-game losing streak of the season.
“The way that we started the first and third quarter was unacceptable,” said Kings coach Michael Malone. “We gave up a combined 66 points in the first and third. First quarter, they shot 53 percent, and in the third they shot 59 percent.
“Second quarter we got back in the game and held them to 39 percent, then in the fourth we held them to 41 percent. That’s just a microcosm of who we are. You’re 9-9 and in your wins you defend, but in your losses you don’t defend anybody.”
The Kings' second unit contributed 58 points, including 18 points in 14 minutes, all in the second half by Derrick Williams.
The bench knows, however, that offense isn’t enough.
“Defense -– the nine games that we did win, it was defense,” said backup point guard Ramon Sessions. “Coach, he stresses that. But also we’ve been playing some competition.”
“It’s not like we’ve been playing some rollover teams," Sessions continued. "We’ve been playing some of the best teams that are playing the best ball. But we’ve just got to stick with it and get it back on the defensive end.”
Kyle Lowry delivered 27 points, including 10 in the fourth quarter to finish it for Toronto, while dishing out 13 assists. Terrence Ross scored 20 points while James Johnson chipped in with 19 points off the bench.
“That’s the NBA,” said Malone. “Every night is another challenge. If you want to be with the best, then you have to compete and beat the best.”
“First quarter I think we came out sluggish,” said Ben McLemore, who led the Kings with 21 points. “I think tonight we lost on the defensive end and rebounds … I think we didn’t rebound tonight and we didn’t come up with the win.”
The Kings lead the NBA in rebound margin at +7.9 but were without the NBA’s leading rebounder in DeMarcus Cousins who missed his third consecutive game for the Kings due to a virus.
Toronto capitalized, out-rebounding Sacramento by just one, but the Raptors had 11 second chance points in a critical fourth quarter.
The Raptors were also missing a key piece as leading scorer DeMar DeRozan is out indefinitely with a torn left groin.
Depth and rolling with it are key in the NBA.
“I told our guys after the game, don’t wait for DeMarcus Cousins to save the day,” Malone commented. “We have enough talent and enough character in this locker room to withstand his absence to stand up and start playing the right way.”
“(Cousins) warmed up and wasn’t feeling well. He has a fever, his headaches—all of that. We all want him to be back but his health and well-being is more important than playing in a game right now in the big picture.”
THE GOOD: Offense. Sacramento had 28 assists on 39 field goals, shot 52 percent from the floor and the bench produced 58 points.
Rudy Gay had 20 points and recorded a career-high 10 assists as another indicator of the Kings offense percolating.
THE BAD: Defense. Allowing 117 points to Toronto without DeMar DeRozan is near nonexistent defense.
THE TAKE: This movie: "dig a hole, valiant comeback and fall short either due to excessive turnovers or poor defense" is at risk of becoming redundant.
However, the Kings are still competitive without Cousins and thinking long term, the bench production is a good sign.
Yet the Kings need to find defense if they want to secure more wins during this crucial stretch with nine home games remaining in December.
“Without (Cousins), we’re struggling right now and we have to find a way over the next two days to get ready for Indiana (Friday) and Orlando (Saturday)," said Malone. “I hate how we’re playing right now defensively.”