SACRAMENTO-- Kings fans were treated to a high quality game Tuesday night at Sleep Train Arena, but one with an all too familiar ending. Sacramento fought hard through 44 minutes and then struggled to finish off a quality opponent. The beneficiary of the Kings inability to close out a game was the Portland Trail Blazers who came away with a 115-107 victory to sweep Sacramento 4-0 on the season.
There is no question that the Kings’ seasons has shifted from the race for the playoffs to resting players with the hopes of improving draft position. Rudy Gay (rest), Kosta Koufos (rest), Darren Collison (rest), Omri Casspi (strained right hamstring) and Marco Belinelli (sore right foot) missed the game against Portland. Those five made up more than half of the Kings rotation this season.
The Kings were shorthanded to say the least, but that didn’t matter. George Karl had 10 healthy bodies and they gave the Blazers all they could handle.
“We were hanging in the game because of guts and more competitive spirit than skills,” Karl said. “We turned it over and didn’t rebound the ball and still fought our way into a game that was right there if we made some shots and made some stops.”
At the 6:40 mark of the fourth, Sacramento trailed by just one point. But a little over three minutes later, the ball seemed to bounce Portland’s way one possession after another as they pushed the lead back up to 10.
“They rebounded the ball with their bigs, they rebounded the ball with their athleticism and they rebounded the ball with the bounce of the ball,” Karl lamented.
Portland outrebounded Sacramento 49-34, including a stunning 19-3 advantage on the offensive glass. Moe Harkless led the way with a career-high 16 boards, but it was a team effort for the Blazers who strengthened their hold on the sixth spot in the Western Conference playoff race with the win.
“I think for the majority of the game we played well,” Seth Curry said. “We did enough offensively and our defense was pretty good half-court throughout the game. Towards the end of the game we didn’t score it as well as we should have and I think those rebounds caught up to us.”
Curry wasn’t the star of the game for the Kings, that honor goes where it usually does. DeMarcus Cousins tied a franchise record with his 26th 30-point night of the season, matching Mitch Richmond’s mark set during the 1996-97 season.
Rajon Rondo put on a show as well, finishing with his sixth triple-double of the season. He scored a season-high 27 points and chipped in 12 assists and 10 rebounds in the loss.
Curry picked up his sixth start of the season and continued to prove his worth to both the Kings and the other 29 teams in the NBA. The 25-year-old guard finished the night with 17 points on 6-of-12 shooting from the field and 3-for-5 from long range. He added six rebounds and four assists in 34 minutes of play.
“I think he’s a basketball player,” Karl said. “He’s a feisty defender. He wants to be an NBA player. He’s driven. He’s a pro.”
After playing sparingly during the first half of the season, Curry is averaging 15.3 points per game on 42 percent shooting 3-point range over his last seven. He plays with a consistency that the Kings have been searching for over the last few seasons at the shooting guard spot.
“I don’t think it’s development, it’s been there,” Cousins said when asked about Curry’s development over the season. “He got his opportunity and he took advantage of it. I don’t consider it development, the guy can play.”
Karl was clear that Curry will play 25-35 minutes per game over the final four. He has a player option for next season for a little over $1 million. Has he done enough to opt out and find a deal with more guaranteed money either in Sacramento or in another NBA city? That is one of many questions the Kings will have to answer.
AN E-MO SIGHTING
Eric Moreland saw court time for the first time since Dec. 3. The second-year big has struggled with injuries since coming into the league, but he found a way to be productive, albeit while playing completely out of control in his six minute stint.
“I think he’s playing one or two other sports (on the court) while he’s playing basketball,” Cousins said with a smile. “You love his energy, I’m glad he’s on my team. When he really gets his chance, he’s going to be a big spark for us.”
Moreland may see the court one or two times more before the season ends, but Sacramento has a lot more time and energy wrapped up into both Willie Cauley-Stein and Quincy Acy to hand anything substantial to the project big man.