Sacramento’s 120-100 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers on Monday was overshadowed by continuing reports that George Karl is on his last legs as coach of the Kings. The failure, like the previous three before it, had a similar theme. The Kings have stopped playing defense and their coach is likely to pay the price.
Karl will be relieved of his duties, “in the coming days," according to a nationally published report. The 63-year-old coaching legend appears to have lost the room and more importantly, the support of management.
Some players are still willing to fight the good fight, but CSN California has confirmed that only a handful of players showed up Monday morning for an optional shootaround session.
“When three or four guys show up, what does that say?” Rajon Rondo asked. “You can’t have three or four guys show up and expect to beat Cleveland.”
It’s almost as if the Kings had no interest in beating Cleveland. They were a disaster once again on the defensive end, allowing the Cavs to score 30 or more points in every quarter but the fourth, where they dropped in 29. It’s a trend they just can’t shake.
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“We missed layups. We missed free throws. We got in foul trouble,” Karl said. “So our heads, I think, got a little heavy. To beat Cleveland here, you’re going to have to play your A+ game.”
The Kings played closer to a D- game, maybe even a F game. And it’s now becoming common place.
“We’ve got to just take pride in defense,” Rondo said. “I think of the eight out of nine (games) we lost, teams scored 120 in probably six of the games. I don’t know specifically, but giving 30 a quarter every night and giving out career highs and season highs and first of whatever – it’s frustrating. We can’t just keep lying down. We’ve got to have some type of fight and find a way.”
Like every other Kings opponent on the current losing streak, Cleveland buried them from outside. Led by J.R. Smith’s 6-of-13 shooting from deep, the Cavs went 16-for-35 from 3-point land, outscoring the Kings 48-27 from distance.
“We can’t just keep laying down, we’ve got to fight,” Rondo said following the game. “We’re all men. We’re all grown. We’ve got to stop making excuses.”
There is no question the Kings are reeling. No one stood out on the offensive end except Rudy Gay who was doubtful until moments before tipoff due to a sprained left ankle.
This season is taking on a very similar feel to last year when the team folded under interim head coach Tyrone Corbin. After the firing of Michael Malone by then GM Pete D’Alessandro, the players gave into the frustration and went just 7-21 over a 28-game stretch with Corbin at the helm.
The Kings began their downward spiral after a double overtime loss to the Charlotte Hornets on their home floor on Jan. 25. At the time they had rattled off five straight and were riding high in the eighth spot in the Western Conference.
Since then they are 1-8 and clearly falling apart at the seams.
“My belief is that anytime there’s anything we’re struggling (with), you go back to the basics of playing the game fundamentally the right way, which is always with energy and intensity and playing hard,” Karl said. “That’s hard to do for 48 minutes. People don’t understand – the NBA game is a long game. It’s very difficult to stay mentally and physically engaged and intense. Losing causes frustration.”
There is no doubt that the team is frustrated. They also lack the mental toughness to play through challenging times. Two weeks ago they were in the playoff picture. Now they are tied for the eighth worst record in the league and appear to be heading towards another lottery.
“We’ve got to stop making excuses, bottom line,” Rondo said. “We make too many excuses as a team.”
As much as Karl’s system appears flawed, the players have allowed that to become a crutch. If Karl is dismissed later this week as many expect, they will have one less person to blame if they can’t turn things around.