The Sacramento Kings attempted to play basketball Tuesday night, but the Houston Rockets made it an almost impossible task.
From the contest’s outset it was clear that the Rockets were moving at a different speed than the Kings – a much, much faster one. The pace and talent of Houston completely overwhelmed Sacramento and the Rockets came away with a 129-103 win.
In a season riddled with poor defensive showings, Tuesday night’s may have been the Kings’ worst. Houston got what it wanted, when and where it wanted it and without much, if any, opposition.
The Kings (20-37) looked like a JV team taking on varsity, and James Harden led the upper-class Rockets (39-18). He racked up 22 points in the first quarter alone and finished with 43 points in just 31 minutes. Sacramento didn’t have an answer for the shifty Harden, who was able to weave his way into the heart of the defense with ease. Once he seemingly tired of attacking the rim, where he was constantly fouled (the Kings’ only way of slowing him down), Harden migrated to the perimeter, where he was 6-9 and only helped to add to his and his team’s monstrous tally.
After holding two consecutive teams below 40 percent shooting from the field, Sacramento allowed Houston to shoot 56.9 percent. The Kings routinely lost track of their opponents on defense and were left looking at one another confused, trying to figure out where the breakdown occurred. Sacramento’s transition defense was nonexistent: players often looked on as multiple blurs of red streaked down the floor and finished with a dunk or lay-in.
Though the Rockets have more weapons and potency than the Boston Celtics and Denver Nuggets – the Kings’ previous two opponents – allowing such a high percentage to any team is a recipe for failure. Michael Malone wasn’t pleased with the performance his team cooked up.
“For us to come out and play the way we did in that first quarter tonight, it’s just unacceptable, as I told our guys,” said Malone of the opening quarter, in which the Kings trailed 42-17. “You’re going to have some bad games at times, I get that; you’re going to have some off nights, but the one constant that should never be questioned is your effort. For us to allow them to come out and score 42 points and get 18 fastbreak points in the first quarter is just crazy.”
Saturday against the Celtics, DeMarcus Cousins reached his boiling point, narrowly avoiding an ejection after picking up a technical foul for mixing it up with Kris Humphries.
Tuesday, the lid came off.
After a questionable foul call on the baseline, Cousins voiced his complaint to an official who replied by assessing the Kings center with a technical foul, his 14th of the season. The technical set Cousins off, and he had to be restrained by Rudy Gay, who pulled him all the way to the other end of the court in an attempt to cool Cousins down.
Following the free throws, Malone called a timeout and Cousins lost his composure, berating the official before being ejected and leaving the court with about 20 minutes left in the game. Cousins’ 15 technical fouls lead the league and put him just one shy of an automatic suspension, per NBA rules.
The Kings put together a modest run to end the first half, but Cousins ejection quelled any hopes they had of making the outcome respectable.
“It’s tough on everybody. I don’t want to comment too much on it. (I want to) try to have a short memory about it and worry about the Los Angeles Lakers,” Thomas said. “It affects all of us, but at the same time, we have to keep playing, we’re professionals. There’s no excuse for it, but we got to keep playing.”
New acquisition Reggie Evans was one of the few bright spots for Sacramento, coming off the bench to provide energy and physicality to a team that was sorely lacking both. At 24 minutes, the outing was Evans’ longest in his young stint on the Kings. He started the second half in favor of the Kings’ first half starter at power forward, Jason Thompson, and registered eight points and eight rebounds.
While Evans’ effort, one of his defining traits, is much needed and consistent, it takes more than just one player off the bench to contribute such a seemingly simple intangible to capture a win.
The Rockets have the best record in the league since the turn of the New Year, and the Kings came in without a sense of urgency, Malone said. They’ll need effort and urgency when they play the Los Angeles Lakers Friday, or else risk falling even further down the Western Conference rankings.