The Sacramento Kings are a dizzying, dysfunctional mess inside and out.
Their best player and coach have openly feuded for months, culminating in a profanity-laced tirade this week, with some reports indicating that George Karl’s hot seat is getting hotter by the minute. (Other reports dispute that notion.) They have an odd mix of young, high-quality prospects (Willie Cauley-Stein, Ben McLemore) and veterans past their prime (Rajon Rondo, Rudy Gay). Their owner has spearheaded multiple coaching changes and front office turnover, and reportedly made multiple decisions without consulting the team’s minority owners. Their aforementioned best player is a seven-foot behemoth with deft footwork that struggled to hit shots at the basket heading into Saturday night.
So it’s hard to glean too much from a solid performance from a team that makes atmospheric noise seem predictable, especially in a game that seemed wholly predicated on which DeMarcus Cousins or Rajon Rondo would show up on a possession-to-possession basis.
Unfortunately for the Nets, the Cousins they didn’t want to see showed up for about 18 second-half minutes, and in that time it was like watching a wrecking ball take down a screen door. He got nearly any look he pleased, and the Nets were powerless to defend it.
Cousins fouled out in the last 43 seconds, and his absence gave the Nets a sudden inspiring — and frankly, amazing — shot at victory.
After an improbable turn of events that featured Rajon Rondo, with the Kings up two, throwing an inbounds pass into Rondae Hollis-Jefferson’s chest that then bounced back off Rondo’s leg, the Nets had a shot with 1.1 seconds left to win or send the game to overtime.
But with Joe Johnson — who had hit two three-pointers already in the quarter — wide open beyond the perimeter, inbounder Wayne Ellington tossed the pass off Willie-Cauley Stein’s outstretched wing, and the Nets fell just short.
The stats: 17 PTS, 5-15 FG, 7-8 FT, 10 REB, 4 BLK, 3 TOV, 5 PF
Another game where Lopez got fewer looks as the game went on, but it was hard to blame anything for that situation.
Lopez should get some credit for his defense on DeMarcus Cousins in the first half, but this falls under the Kings Confusion Principle: Cousins didn’t take particularly good or difficult shots to defend, and Lopez didn’t have to do much beyond keep his hands up.
When Cousins put more effort into drawing contact and making moves in the second half, he dominated, scoring 17 straight at one point, finishing in the forties, and damn near single-handedly bringing the Kings back from a double-digit deficit.
Cousins is a scary matchup when he’s on like he was tonight. He hits mid-range and three-point shots with an uneasy ease, and if Lopez played too far off or too close, Cousins found his way to the basket and lifted an easy layup in. It was a stark contrast: Cousins bounced off double-teams, while Lopez swung himself into them.
The stats: 4 PTS, 2-3 FG, 7 REB, 1 AST
EVERY DAY IS A RONDAE.