SACRAMENTO -- Arco Arena used to be one of the toughest home courts in the NBA.
Maybe the building has lost it’s luster with the constant name changes and losing seasons. Or maybe the current roster of Kings players don’t understand the concept of a home-court advantage.
The Sacramento Kings are now 13-13 on their home floor, and that will likely spell disaster later this season when the final standings come out. Winning starts at home and this team has squandered one opportunity after the next despite incredible crowds showing up to support their team.
On Wednesday night it was the Chicago Bulls who rolled into town and came away with a 107-102 victory. A sellout crowd looked stunned as their band of heroes came out flat once again and fell behind by as many as 13 in the first quarter. It’s tough to win games when you are constantly playing from behind.
“You think I know?” George Karl exclaimed when asked about the slow starts. “If I knew ... it’s a nightmare. I’ve never had this many games on the home court come out flat. Then you dig a hole, you fight hard, play well, play the right way for a few quarters. But we’re playing a damn good basketball team. You run out of energy. It’s not a good formula for success.”
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Karl is flummoxed. He has no idea why this team can’t get out of their own way. And according to the NBA’s fifth winningest coach all-time, he and his coaching staff have tried every trick in the book to motivate this group.
“We tried to present it as the beginning, motivating yourself to be more into the game,” a clearly frustrated Karl said. "We presented ourselves. We don’t want to give up 30-point quarters. We tried to present it in a different way, but we’re basically saying get ready and play your ass off.”
It’s almost as if the Kings believe that they can erase any margin. They’ve got away with it in the past, so why not against the Bulls?
Unfortunately, it doesn’t always work that way. Turnovers pile up. Missed shots accumulate. Even if you make a late run, there is no guarantee that the ball will bounce your way.
“We started out bad again and it came back to bite us in the ass in the end,” Rudy Gay said. “We played well, we fought back, but we definitely need to focus on how we start games.”
The Kings trailed by five going to the fourth quarter, but it didn’t take long for the Bulls to push their lead to 10 nearing the midway point of the quarter. The Kings showed grit and determination as they whittled the lead to just three with 45.2 seconds remaining, but making multiple comebacks in a single game is exhausting.
In the final minute, they systematically melted down. In the final minute and a half, the Kings missed three layups within two feet, three free throws (one intentionally) and two wide open 3-pointers, and losing by five.
That is what happens when you don’t take care of business and you leave everything to chance.
A TWEAK IN THE LINEUP
Karl has wanted to give Marco Belinelli a real shot in the starting lineup for most of the season. The veteran wing made his second-straight start on Wednesday night against Chicago and the results were impressive.
Belinelli finished the night with 18 points on 7-of-14 from the field and 3-of-7 from long range. He added three steals and four rebounds, but he turned the ball over four times in 36 minutes of play. His effort on the defensive end wasn’t star caliber, but it was about as good as it gets for the Kings at the shooting guard spot this season.
With Belinelli working with the starters, Darren Collison looked free to lead the second unit. Gone were the constricting play sets run for Belinelli. Collison attacked the Bulls defense from start to finish, coming away with 19 points on 8-of-11 shooting.
“Obviously we look to set up Marco because he’s such a good shooter coming off screens,” Collison said. “If he’s not in the lineup, you just go down hill and try to be a little bit more aggressive.”
The Kings’ bench unit of Collison, Omri Casspi, Ben McLemore and Kosta Koufos outscored Chicago’s 34-29. This might be a look that Karl tests for a few more games.
Cousins came into the day questionable with a left ankle sprain and he left it with ice packs all over his body. The Kings All-Star center went down with a hyperextended right knee early in the game, but he refused to go out of the game. Moments later he tweaked his left knee and later in the game veteran Kirk Hinrich hammered his right shoulder with a flying elbow.
“I’m banged up, but I’ll be alright,” Cousins said. “I hyperextended one of them and then came down and hyperextended the other one. I hyperextended my shoulder. It was a game tonight, but I’ll ice up, take a pain pill and be ready to go.”
Cousins still managed to finish with 30 points, 11 rebounds, four assists, three steals and two blocks. His missed free throws down the stretch hurt, as did his six turnovers, but he shook off the training staff multiple times trying to stay on the floor for his team.