• The Kings took a gut punch in Charlotte as they gave up a 22-point lead and dropped to 5-10 on the season after a 127-122 overtime loss.

    They were expected to have a slow start to the season with a tough string of Western Conference teams to play in their first eight games, and all of the pressure of the offseason weighing on them to boot.

    The current Eastern Conference stretch of their schedule was supposed to give them a much-needed boost toward .500, but that hasn’t happened as they’re just 4-3 against the East so far after a 1-7 start.

    The Kings outscored the Hornets 38-21 in the third quarter but then things began to unravel as DeMarcus Cousins’ mysterious back injury and fatigue for starters Rajon Rondo and Rudy Gay began to set in.

    Neither team played great defense in this game, at least until the fourth quarter when the Hornets clamped down and forced the Kings into tough possession after tough possession.

    Overall I thought the Kings actually looked pretty good with their offensive execution, owing largely to the decision to use tremendous amounts of Rajon Rondo-DeMarcus Cousins pick-and-rolls.  Defensively, they continue to switch when not needed but it wasn’t as apparent as it was in previous outings.  There wasn’t enough disruptive defense by either team to throw off the others’ offensive rhythm.

    The decision to stay with Cousins despite him being well below 100 percent was a decision that most coaches would have made, and the impact of Rondo’s fatigue wasn’t as indicative of what one might have thought if they were watching on Twitter.

    In the end, a win would have put the Kings on a nice trajectory to survive their first 20 games, which has been a sort of pseudo-measurement among those that cover the team.  Make it out of that sample near or just below .500 and the playoffs are still in reach.

    Now, at 5-10 games at Milwaukee, at home against the Wolves, at Golden State, and finally two home games against Dallas and Boston cap off a manageable stretch before things get tough again. 8-12 and 7-13 will seem light years apart if the mood surrounding the team starts to get salty.

    More thoughts:

    -I love what Omri Casspi brings to the Kings on so many different levels — on the court and off — but he is not a good enough player to be so loose with the ball and shot selection.

    -It’s times like those that he needs to be cooled off by somebody on the bench until the transgressions become more sporadic.

    -Ben McLemore notched another solid game and if he plays the way he did here, he looks like an invaluable member of this squad considering he’s the only real defensive two the Kings have.  Along with Willie Cauley-Stein, he needed more than 19 minutes.

    -Rajon Rondo had 20 assists and he needs to be the subject of some sort of massive think piece.  He has clearly taken control of this team and his relationships with Rudy Gay and DeMarcus Cousins have made him the leader of this team.  In fact, everything this team does is made in Rondo’s image of the game.  So when he looks bad, the Kings look really bad.  His rebounding is a huge asset and his defense has been more of a positive than a negative most of the time.

    -So what’s the rub?  Last night the offense functioned well for the most part.  But if Rondo is going to have this much of an impact on the style and the way the Kings play, then he has to take ownership of the turnover problem because the other guys aren’t as good as he is at pulling off the madcap style he plays with.  Additionally, though the Kings did well getting the ball to DeMarcus in the post, they still don’t know how to do it at crucial moments of the game.

    -This is a Rondo issue.  He needs to order his big man down into the post if he doesn’t want to go there, or if Karl’s system keeps him at the 3-point line.  Whatever the case may be, Cousins should only be on the perimeter when the action is designed for that, and as a secondary attack rather than the primary. Again, this is a complex topic that will evolve as the team does and it’s one of the most fascinating basketball things I’ve seen.

    -I thought Frank Kaminsky did pretty well for a rookie trying to cover Rudy Gay late in this game.

    -The Hornets defense started to tighten up late in the third quarter. Rondo started looking exhausted right about that time, and that’s when the Kings offense started to become disengaged with what had been working. Also, the absence of DeMarcus Cousins started to shine through.

    -DeMarcus Cousins doesn’t look right.  If he’s hurting more than the injury report would suggest, I think the Kings would be wise to disclose that so questions don’t linger about his effort.  He seriously looks dinged up, he walks on the floor more than any player in the league, and seems to be relying on bursts of effort to get through games.  It looks like multiple issues between his back, hip and ankle/Achilles’ injuries.

    -Kings go with the easy switch of Casspi onto Kemba and Collison on Kaminsky.  Kaminsky easily posts up Collison seconds later.

    -DeMarcus Cousins was a destroyer of worlds while he was playing in the fourth quarter. Inside, outside and enough defensive plays to offset issues with his lateral quickness at times.

    -Rudy Gay is getting beat defensively far too much for a player of his caliber.  He’s either working himself into shape, is dealing with something we don’t know about, or he just can’t keep up with players on that end of the floor.

    -Cousins trailing the play at 3:30 was the reason Kemba got a huge three off. His conditioning or injury also impacted the next offensive play down the floor as the Kings couldn’t get into anything. Additionally, Rondo racked up two jumpers in a two-minute span that you’d want to be from somebody else.

    -Cousins was a huge liability for the Kings starting at about the four-minute mark of the fourth quarter. Kemba Walker tore him up in the screen and roll game and offensively he didn’t have the juice to get where he wanted, and this was a big factor in the Kings offense getting gummed up.

    -The Kings should have had Willie Cauley-Stein on the floor in crunch time and you could have picked any number of guys you could have pulled off the floor to do it with.  Marco Belinelli, before his huge game-tying bucket, wasn’t giving you anything.  Casspi had a really bad fourth quarter. Rudy Gay was either fatigued or just bad and we’ve covered Cousins. On the play in which Kemba nearly had a game-winner blowing by Rudy, Casspi spent the play in no man’s land with no impact and WCS would’ve had a legitimate shot at blocking Kemba’s running scoop.

    -Beautifully drawn play by George Karl with 0.7 seconds left to give Rudy a chance at the rim against a player in Marvin Williams they felt he could win a one-on-one jump ball situation against.

    As you can see the Hornets decide they want to protect against an easy turnaround for Rudy on the block by doubling with Kemba:

    Screen Shot 2015-11-24 at 1.04.14 PM

    The play calls for Rudy to screen for Belinelli, who had just hit a big shot to tie and is a guy that can get a good look off in 0.7 seconds. Both Batum and Kemba go with him into the corner, leaving Rudy in one-on-one against Williams again:

    Screen Shot 2015-11-24 at 1.04.58 PM

    Screen Shot 2015-11-24 at 1.05.14 PM

    From there it’s on Rudy to get separation like an NFL receiver would at the line of scrimmage, and for Rondo to throw the ball up at its highest point so Rudy can make a play on it:

    Screen Shot 2015-11-24 at 1.06.18 PM

    Screen Shot 2015-11-24 at 1.06.33 PM

     

    -Rudy was just terrible in the pick-and-roll to close out this game. Overpursuing, unable to contain.

    -Koufos got caught sleeping on Kaminsky for his big three to open the overtime period, after Rudy created a scramble with the aforementioned defensive issue.

    -Rondo’s fatigue started to show in the middle of overtime when Jeremy Lin put him and Rudy in the spin cycle on repeated PnRs.

    -Koufos gets a pushing foul on a rebound and misses a bunny he usually makes. Gave up penetration to Cody Zeller and that led to an offensive rebound for the Hornets.

    -Rondo travels so far away from his man to get defensive rebounds that if the offensive team secures it then his guy is going to be wide open for three. That’s a give-and-take sort of thing but something that may contribute to poor 3-point defense.

    -Rondo shooting a contested 18-footer (miss) was not what the Kings wanted. Then, Jeremy Lin torched him because of the fatigue and Rondo barely made a move to defend it. It happened again but Lin missed the layup.

    -Marco Belinelli took an extremely tough step-back three with about 1:40 to go and the Kings down four. He missed. An example of team not getting what they want when they want it. Next possession they got two made FTs out of a dicey Koufos PnR but again, not exactly what you’d expect.

    -Belinelli gets roasted by Lin on a step-back two, putting the game mostly out of reach.

    -Rondo passes up a somewhat open three and turns it over trying to fling it to Collison on a skip pass. The offense lost all of its identity in the overtime period.

     

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