With all the optimism created by the last two road victories, frightening flashbacks of 2015 still persist. Sacramento’s 5-3 start in 2016 hasn’t exactly made them the hottest team in the NBA, but they seem to be a different team nonetheless.
The Kings appear to be playing with more effort and efficiency. Even the defense, albeit still a sore spot, isn’t quite so sore.
“It’s a big win for us,” DeMarcus Cousins said after the Clippers victory to multiple reporters. “We’re still making a lot of mistakes as a team and still having a lot of ups and downs this season, so we’re just trying to find that consistency.”
Though five wins have made for an encouraging start, near-losses against the Lakers and Jazz have made them bittersweet victories. Then there was the ugly loss to the Pelicans. It was a game that left fans miffed, disappointed, and even a little confused.
What does this team need? Why isn’t this team more than what they are? The talent is there, so what’s missing?
Frankly, everyone has an answer for that, if not an entire list. What can be said with clarity though, is the fact that no matter the opponent, wins will not simply be distributed freely like Costco samples. On a nightly basis, if wins are going to come, they will need to be earned.
Effort is a nice starting point, but aggression will be the next progression.
In their recent game against a fellow-playoff hopeful, the Utah Jazz, the Kings seemed to understand this and came out with sheer aggression. The team that was prone to taking off-balanced 3-pointers from Marco Belinelli, contested isolation shots with little ball movement from Rudy Gay, and not-the-first-choice three-point hoists from Cousins was no where to be seen.
Instead, they attacked the rim. In fact, through the first quarter, they only had one attempt from outside the paint and didn’t shoot a single 3-pointer. It was a quarter which yielded a 26-12 point advantage for the Kings.
Fast forward to the fourth quarter where the Kings lead 82-71, and the shot chart would look vastly different than the first 12 minutes.
The Kings shot 14 attempts from outside of the key, whereas the Jazz had just seven. It led to a quarter where the Kings would be outscored 30-21 and nearly fumble away what seemed to be a comfortable win.
In short, the Kings stopped attacking the rim and began settling for jump shots while their opponents were able to fight their way back into the game by doing the opposite. It is a recurring theme for a team that has struggled to close out games.
A win is a win, and at this point in the season, the Kings will take it. An impressive first three quarters of basketball that reflected what seems to be a new Kings team led to a flashback in the fourth of the old one.
The Kings finished the Jazz game 5-of-11 (45.5 percent) from behind the arc. It made for a role-reversal as they let their opponents be the ones to shoot themselves into an early hole and not have enough to get themselves out of it in the end as Utah shot just 6-of-34 (17.6 percent) from distance.
Sacramento is a good 3-point shooting team. In fact, at 36.4 percent, they are the fifth best in the NBA (ESPN.com). However, if success is to come, their shot selection will have to be smarter and more efficient. In doing so, they will utilize their strength in shooting rather than abusing it.