DENVER 118, KINGS 99
DENVER - The Kings were a jubilant bunch Tuesday morning, when they boarded a bus headed for shootaround with many of the players having just watched the inauguration speech of President Barack Obama.
At least they spent part of the day inspired.
Their Mile High meltdown was yet another sign that this team really is content to make its own kind of humbling history, as they remain on pace to have the worst Kings record of all time. Wednesday night's home game against Washington presents Toilet Bowl, Part II (Kings vs. Golden State last week was Part I) and a subplot to that story line as well. The Kings, who have a 7-14 record at home thus far, need to go 10-10 at home for the rest of the season to avoid having the worst home mark since the team began playing 41 home games per season in 1972. The 1989-90 Kings and the 1992-93 Kings both set that mark.
And while Brad Miller may not be around to see this thing through if he winds up getting traded before the February trade deadline, he did his part in helping with the history with his uninspired play against the Nuggets. His line was just awful: 27 minutes, two points (0 of 4 shooting) and three rebounds. The postgame reaction was generous from coach Kenny Natt, who essentially said every player has a bad night.
In the media room, the reaction from a few locals who have watched their share of hoops over the years wasn't quite so kind. One observer said of Miller's outing, "It just doesn't seem like he even wants to play anymore." And another added: "It's like he wasn't even out there. I feel like I don't remember him playing." And while the Nuggets - I've been told - are definitely not among the teams with even mild interest in Miller, Natt is suddenly talking as if he simply wishes a trade of some kind would happen.
After this loss, he even referenced how the plan is to basically mix the old and the young pieces and shoot for overall improvement until the roster changes.
"We have a young group of guys that we're just trying to get them minutes and they're learning how to play together and things of that sort," he said. "We know where we are with this team. And it's just a matter of us getting as much as we can out of the young guys in the situations that we want, and then somewhere along the line get the pieces that we need to become a better team."
Asked for the 1,927th time about leadership - by myself, because it remains an issue - Natt reiterated that this particular mix of players continues to prove they just don't have the personalities to inspire each other in that way.
"It'd be great if we had someone stand up (during tough times), but we don't have that type of guy," Natt said. "Again, that's what the makeup of a team is. ...That's where we are."
Kevin Martin didn't have any answers either, as he was as puzzled as the rest as to why the Kings didn't even manage - as one reporter called it - the obligatory run in the second half that most NBA teams always muster.
"That's a question we ask ourselves," he said when asked why there was no fight in this team. "We have no answer, but (fighting back) is something we need to do as a team. ...That is sad to ask (if they have lost their pride). Hopefully it's not gone, but we'll just continue to try to get better as a team."
THOMPSON, HAWES HOLD OUT HOPE FOR ROOKIE-SOPHOMORE GAME
One week from today, Jason Thompson and Spencer Hawes hope to be on an All-Star roster.
It's not the All-Star roster, but being on the list of invited players for the annual Rookie-Sophomore game that will be announced Jan. 28 would be quite a boost for the rookie taken 12th overall out of little-known Rider University last summer and the second-year player taken 10th out of Washington in 2007.
"Who knows (if he'll make it)?" Thompson said after Monday's practice in Sacramento. "I'm hearing a lot, with people (telling him) 'Pack your bags, get ready for it.' ... Hopefully me and (second-year forward) Spence get to play in the game."
As they both know, the easiest way to earn votes from the league's assistant coaches who determine the participants is to play like an actual All-Star. And while Thompson hasn't, he has been much improved recently.
He returned to the starting lineup Jan. 8 against Miami and did so quietly, playing just 24 minutes with four points and seven rebounds. In the five games since his return to the starting lineup, Thompson has averaged 14.8 points while hitting 25 of 46 shots (54.3 percent), 7.6 rebounds, one turnover and 29 minutes per game.
"(He has made) tremendous progress" Natt said after the practice. "And one of the things that I've noticed is he started listening a lot more, and that's been really helpful. He's listening, and he has become much more patient inside. He has been playing great.
"We just want to make sure he keeps that attitude going and it could be contagious to the rest of the guys. Sometimes your leader is not your oldest or your best guy, and we just have to have everyone picking up and bringing that energy like he has."
While Thompson is starting, Hawes may have a stronger case to be invited. Despite his recent struggles and decline in minutes (read game story for the latest there), he entered Tuesday ranked 10th among second-year players in scoring (10.7 points per game), third in rebounds (6.7), and third in blocks (1.49) while ranking just ninth in minutes (27.2). Thompson entered ranked 10th among rookies in scoring (9.5 points per game), fifth in rebounds (6.7), 11th in minutes (24.8) and just 17th in blocks (0.17).
As I mentioned in the game notes, Donte' Greene's official return to the team led to eight minutes of garbage time.
But I couldn't fit in some of Natt's comments on what Greene must do to earn more time, so here it is ...
"We thought (going to the D-League) was a great opportunity for Donte to go there and play and he's ecstatic about the minutes (he played in five games with the Reno Bighorns)," Natt said. "He has produced well. We aren't concerned about his offense. We just want him to work on the defensive principles. One of the things I want him to do is become more like Cisco (Garcia), long and active defensively.
"(Greene) didn't do that great of a job rebounding up there (in Reno). He scored well, but he didn't get a lot of rebounds. Those are the things we will continue to work with him on."
On the positive side, at least Greene continues to entertain with his hilarious personality. Courtesy of the fine folks at Kings.com, I give you the latest edition of the Donte' Greene show.
- Sam Amick