PHILADELPHIA - They can lose and still win, and that's the worst part about these Kings so far.
Not many teams get that off-the-hook distinction, but they are among the few. Especially on the road for a season-opening four-game road trip, especially without their starting center and their sixth man, and especially with so much youth being integrated in such significant ways so early on. But they're doing more than losing. They're losing bad.
The 20-point average margin of defeat in the 0-4 start doesn't tell the story, especially in the 125-91 loss to the Sixers. They trailed by 40 points in the fourth quarter, and it takes all kinds of haplessness to make that happen. In 16 quarters of play, the Kings have won just two (and one shouldn't count since it was the fourth quarter against Miami in which they trailed by 31 points after three quarters). They have yet to lead after the first quarter. Most likely, their 111.8 points per game allowed will be worst in the league by the time the beans are counted this morning and their 52.2 percent opponents' field-goal percentage will be pretty close to the bottom too.
Now comes a home opener against Memphis on Wednesday that could be equal parts relief and panic for Kings coach Reggie Theus and his staff. Sure it's nice to not be facing Boston or the Lakers, they might be thinking, but what if it's another loss? Any loss in that game - close or otherwise - won't sit well with all involved.
What's more, the Grizzlies' reputation as sure-thing NBA cellar dwellars may not match their actual ability. Coach Marc Iavaroni and his bunch are 2-2 after wins over Orlando and Golden State and losses to Houston and Chicago. Before we jump ahead, though, let's listen in on what was an incredibly-candid visitors locker room at the Wachovia Center on Monday night.
It's open mike night, because introductions aren't really necessary when it comes to moments of clarity like these. As a quick sidenote, none of this was Donte' Greene's fault, especially since he was inactive again and is looking more and more every day like he may be headed for the D-League (he's not getting better in a suit and he's repeatedly said he would be open and enthusiastic about the notion of playing big minutes as a Reno Bighorn). Now back to those who did take part...
Kings coach Reggie Theus on the porous defense: "The (lack of) defense is one thing and that's concentration and effort. Guys are thinking (about) the wrong end of the floor. I've been there and I know what it's like. It's all about my shots and where I'm at. It's not about my man I'm guarding and where I'm supposed to be defensively and that's going to make for a long year if we don't get it together."
Second-year center Spencer Hawes on the collective psyche: "We can't let it get us down. We have to learn from it, but our reflection from it has to be from that point of view. We can reflect on the bad for the sake of improvement, but we can't dwell on the bad and let it continue to hinder us. That's the thing.
"We've got a chance now to go home and right the ship. Frankly, I'm excited. I can't wait for the next game because that's our chance to get back on track. That's the first step. We can't do it all at once.
Hawes on whether this team knows how to fight together or is lacking leadership: "I think that's part of what we're trying to find. The biggest thing is we have guys who are capable of doing that. It's just like finding our chemistry on the court. We've got to find our chemistry in the locker room and find that leader.
"We have experienced vets, and sometimes they have to emerge. Sometimes you can't just always pick them. They've just got to come forward sometimes."
Hawes on the locker room scene afterward: "We were mad, but we're not sulking about it. We're not feeling sorry for ourselves. We're (ticked), obviously. We're as mad as we should be when you lose a game like that. But in terms of our spirits, I think they're still up. ...We're not letting it get anywhere near breaking us."
Forward Mikki Moore on, well, everything: "I can't call it. I can call it for myself. I can't talk about anybody else individually. But for me, I'm trying to do everything instead of simplifying the game. Coming from a guy who's only had (four) rebounds the last four games, my job tonight was to box Elton Brand out and limit him on his offensive rebounds. He ended up with just one, so I felt like I did a pretty good job on that, but I still ended up with no rebounds.
Rebounds, turnovers, and straight up one-on-one defense is killing us. I'm not the type of person to point fingers and say that this person didn't play their 'D' best, and we had to help out and that's why we (got beat on the) offensive boards. I'm not the person who's going to say that I'm not getting enough shots on the offensive end, so I don't feel involved in the game - period. I'm the guy that's the glue, who's trying to figure out the solution to help everybody, to make everybody motivated, to try to get everybody involved in the game. We've got a six hour flight, and that's what I'm going to be thinking about while I'm watching this tape (against Philly) and the last game (at Orlando)."
MILLER WAITS, AND WATCHES
I caught up with Brad Miller at shoot-a-round on Monday morning. The Kings center who has one game left to sit out per his five-game suspension has been unable to attend the games but said he's been watching the struggles from afar.
Asked about his observations before the loss to Philadelphia, he said, "Do not turn the ball over. Start with that and move on. Just keep everybody together."
On the experience of his exile: "Boring. Boring so far. You're sitting in sports bars with the game on by yourself. That's all you can do. The hotels haven't had the game in the room."
THEUS ON WHAT COULD HAVE BEEN
For a bit of perspective on Theus' mindset before the Sixers dominated his squad, there is this from our shoot-a-round chat...
Theus: "It's a good team but not a bad matchup for us talent-wise. It's a great opportunity to go back home with a victory and have four home games. We could get right. It's been a tough trip. We've played pretty well in two games. And if we play well - regardless of the outcome - we at least had three out of the four games where we played decent basketball, which is OK. I thought the other night in Orlando, we just didn't have enough to finish the game. We cut the lead, cut the lead, and every time it was an offensive rebound, a loose ball, something."
DOWN FROM THE LEDGE, KINGS FAITHFUL. THERE'S STILL JASON THOMPSON
It's almost 4 a.m. East Coast time and that's 5 a.m. just before daylight savings time a few days back, so I'm not going to crunch the numbers on Thompson's play at this late (early) hour. Nonetheless, he's played very well and even came through in his first hometown visit tonight (his New Jersey hometown and Rider University aren't far away). The scene from his friends and family, by the way, was insane in its magnitude and enthusiasm. See for yourself...
Hugs, autographs, pictures. He did it all before tipoff.
This young woman was reporting for the college television station at Rider.
I've yet to have someone tell me how "Disney on Ice" takes priority over the Kings at Arco Arena.
The show which was at Arco last week was booked before the NBA schedule was set, as confirmed in this report a while back. Yes, times are tight and this was certainly an economic decision on someone's part. But if there was one team in the NBA this season that needed to start at home (and even moreso after Miller and Garcia went down), it was this one. Not to mention the fact that this was the Kings' fifth consecutive season starting on the road. I'm guessing Theus didn't visit Mickey at Disneyworld in Orlando and doubt he'll pay his respects in any of the four LA trips either. - Sam Amick