By Morris Phillips
SACRAMENTO–The NBA’s done its part, providing a postseason format tailored for the Kings’ shortcomings. Now the suffering ballclub has to fall in line, and provide the needed buckets and hard-earned, defensive stops to gain a spot.
Kings are you ready?
Well, not yet.
Christian Wood and Kevin Porter Jr. each scored 23 points, and the Rockets held on for a 118-112 win over the Kings at Golden 1 Center. The Kings fell 10 games below .500 with the loss and, for now, relinquished the coveted 10th spot in the Western Conference to the Spurs.
Buddy Hield led the Kings with 27 points in 30 minutes off the bench, and five others scored in double figures, but the hosts were doomed by a ridiculously poor start in which they trailed 13-0 and 21-5 six minutes in.
Struggling teams blow leads, that’s what they do, and the youthful Rockets followed suit. Their shooting, which topped 65 percent early, dipped to 48 percent at the half. The Kings got to the hoop and kept visiting to lead 60-55 at the half, and maintained a 88-85 advantage after three. Interim coach Alvin Gentry liked his team’s fight, but couldn’t ignore the residual effects of the lackluster start.
“They kept enough of a lead that it puts a lot of pressure on you to score,” Gentry said. “We created some really good shots. It’s just a matter of us knocking them down.”
The disjointed ballgame played in front of empty seats and fans wearing 49ers’ jerseys didn’t gain intensity until leading scorer De’Aaron Fox was ejected with 8:14 remaining. A video review revealed his Flagrant 2 foul for slappin at the ball as Houston’s Garrison Mathews attempted to cruise in for a layup. While Fox could legitimately claim he made a basketball play, Mathews fell awkwardly, landing on his hip with his legs taken from beneath him. Fox departed with 14 points, four rebounds and the Kings suddenly trailing by five.
Tyrese Haliburton was unavailable after it was announced earlier on Sunday that he entered COVID protocols, but the Kings got Richaun Holmes and Damian Jones back after protocols forced both into isolation and physical inactivity for a week. Marvin Bagley III couldn’t go due to shoulder soreness.
The Rockets remain last in the Western Conference but they’ve won three of their last four away from Houston’s Toyota Center. They opened the season with a win at Minneapolis, then lost 10 straight road games. Coach Steven Silas prefers what he sees now: an emerging team with youth, and time on it’s side.
“We’re not a playoff team yet but when we are this is what it’s going to look like,” Silas said. “We’re trying to learn as many lessons as we can. I was proud of them for that.”
The Kings host the Pistons on Wednesday, giving them three, consecutive home games against two of the NBA’s worst teams, but there’s no sweep to show for their scheduling luck.