By Morris Phillips
SACRAMENTO–You know the story: since the Kings’ last playoff appearance in the spring of 2006, they’ve accumulated 13 losing seasons, run through 10 coaches, two arenas and finished last in the Pacific Division five times.
But that’s just the surface. Below the surface–or below .500–the Kings’ story gains greater focus. Eliminating the first 10 games of each of the last 14 seasons, including the current one–a sample size of 956 games–the Kings have held a winning record just 66 times.
That’s a winning record 6.9 percent of the time in 13 plus seasons. The most significant Kings’ won-loss record since 2006? March 6 when the Kings were 33-32. They lost three of their next four games and haven’t been over .500 since.
51 of the 66 occasions with a winning record happened last season under coach Dave Joerger, but the occurrence wasn’t treated as an upswing. Joerger was fired by GM Vlade Divac after the season.
So Monday was business as usual: a new Kings’ coach, Luke Walton, a losing record, and a tough loss–113-104 to the Houston Rockets–at home. The Kings have dropped four straight, and are just 12-13 since their 0-5 start to the season that foreshadowed continued playoff irrelevance.
By one measure, the Kings put themselves in harm’s way on Monday by beating the Rockets 119-118 at the buzzer on Nemanja Bjelica’s 3-pointer December 9 in Houston. Since then the Rockets have won six of seven and seen the one-two punch of James Harden and Russell Westbrook grow more cohesive. The pair came into Monday’s contest averaging 62 plus points per game. They scored 62 Monday after combining for just five points in a first quarter in which the Rockets exploded to a 37-21 lead.
After leading by 16 points after a quarter and 86-63 with 4:34 remaining in the third quarter, the Rockets made it interesting. Houston clanked through a 16-point fourth while seeing their lead paired to 102-96 at one point. But that’s as close as it got: the Rockets responded with a pair of Clint Capela free throws then Westbrook’s 3-pointer that increased the lead to 107-96 with 4:13 remaining.
The Rockets shot 3 for 17 in their uncharacteristic fourth quarter, but all three of the makes were 3-pointers.
“You get up 18, 20 points and you start doing things that you weren’t doing to gain the lead,” Harden said. “It happens.”
De’Aaron Fox led the Kings with 31 points, 19 of those in the fourth quarter. Fox didn’t get much help; starters Harrison Barnes and Buddy Hield missed 12 of their combined 13 3-point attempts and finished with nine and 10 points, respectively. The Kings outrebounded the Rockets, 49-39, but couldn’t fully take advantage of Houston’s smallish lineups with Capela the only player over 6’6″ to see action.
Hield, the Kings’ leading scorer, was a spectator in the fourth quarter as the Kings mounted their comeback. Walton explained afterwards.
“It wasn’t a punishment at all. It was more, `Look, we’re a team and we’re trying to win out here and if these guys are going well, well then we keep rolling with them,'” Walton said.
Bogdan Bogdanovich missed his second straight game with a sore ankle. Harry Giles continues to be out, he’s missed the last 13 games for the Kings.
Capela contributed 15 points, 14 rebounds in 41 minutes on an admittedly sore right heel. Harden played 38 minutes with a brace on his knee that coach Mike D’Antoni revealed was bothersome. Still, the NBA’s leading scorer put up 34 points, five assists with Westbrook adding 28.
The Rockets conclude their road swing in San Francisco in a meeting with the Warriors on Christmas Day.
The Kings host the reeling Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday.