So what is it with these Kings? Two nights after persisting and prevailing against the Warriors in triple overtime, they snooze through the first half and blow an opportunity against a Milwaukee Bucks team whose starting center (Andrew Bogut) is sidelined with an injury. That was not a misprint for those who turned off the television. The Kings trailed by 23 points before closing to 114-112 with just under four minutes remaining.
A few observations:
* Beno Udrih committed five turnovers and contributed only two assists, and though his more aggressive play of late is a welcome development, I still think he is more effective when he thinks like a playmaker instead of a scorer.
* Kevin Martin is getting into the habit of flailing when he gets bumped on a play, trying too hard to sell the foul, and when he doesn't get the call, complaining to the referees while play is ongoing. And seriously, no athletic 6-foot-6 player should complain about anything after managing only three rebounds, no assists and no steals (to go with 24 points).
* Too many of the Kings are griping about fouls, substitutions, etc., and are far too demonstrative as they walk toward the bench. Kenny Natt has to gain control of the situation before it spirals out of control.
* John Salmons led the Kings with six assists - one shy of his seven-assist effort against the Warriors. His defense on Michael Redd in the fourth quarter also enabled the Kings to make the game interesting.
* Jason Thompson is starting to resemble the rookie who got everyone so excited earlier in the season. Mostly, he is pursuing rebounds, hustling for loose balls and scoring in the rhythm of the offense. Spencer Hawes, by contrast, seems lost. Unlike his play throughout November and December, his interior defense is a step slow, he isn't rebounding (period), and he appears confused about when to set up in the high post or move down low. I like him at center better than power forward, and particularly when Thompson is the power forward. I think the Brad Miller-Hawes combo is too slow and defensively challenged.
* Bucks second-round draft pick Luc Richard Mbah a Moute, a 6-foot-8 forward out of UCLA, is a better pro than I expected. Actually, he's exactly the type of tough, physical and athletic player the Kings could use. He' s not a star, but he'll always have a job in this league.
* The Kings' defense was pathetic. Natt accurately summarized his club's problems when he accused them of lacking "heart" in the first half, though their apparent confusion about the defensive schemes comes back to him. Either he didn't clearly communicate, or they weren't listening. This is one very frustrated bunch ...
* And the good news is, the more games the Kings lose like this, the more Geoff Petrie learns about his personnel. Whom to trade. Whom to build around. What positions to fill. I'm thinking, I hope Ricky Rubio declares for the draft. Adding a Jason Williams-type performer - without the baggage - wouldn't be bad. You know. Someone who plays with passion, likes to play fast, and isn't afraid to show some emotion? That's why I like the youngsters, Hawes and Thompson, despite their inconsistency.
DONTE IS COMING BACK ... AND WHY?
I caught up with Petrie in the tunnel during the second quarter, and he confirmed that he is recalling Donte Greene from the D-League after the Reno Bighorns' game Saturday afternoon. I'm not sure I understand his rationale, though, given that the 6-foot-10 small forward has had one exceptional game and three so-so performances. If Donte isn't dominating the D-League, what's to be gained by bringing him back? I guess the idea is to keep him around the team and to create some playing time. But in place of Cisco Garcia? Salmons? Thompson? I don't see it, but then, I don't get paid Petrie's big bucks, either ...
FROM COLLEGE TO THE PROS
First-year Bucks assistant Kelvin Sampson, who is among the latest of the former college head coaches to enter the NBA, told me that he understands why so many college coaches struggle when making the transition directly from college to an NBA head-coaching position. The list of notables he is referring to includes Mike Montgomery, P.J. Carlesimo, Jerry Tarkanian, Tim Floyd, etc. "It's so different," said Sampson, who was fired by Indiana for NCAA recruiting violations. "The last two minutes of the game. Free throws. Inbounding the ball at halfcourt. Understanding how to save timeouts so you have one with 10 seconds left. Those are things I never would have thought of."
I have to add here that while glancing toward the visitors bench when the game started, I was struck by the overall quality of the Bucks' coaching staff. Scott Skiles - and I love his intellect and his intensity, even though he wears everyone out after about four seasons - has put together a terrific group with former NBA head coaches Jim Boylan and Lionel Hollins, Sampson, who was regarded as an excellent coach during his tenure at Oklahoma and the U.S. national team, and Joe Wolf, a former NBA journeyman who spent two years as a head coach in the CBA and another two in the D-League. Wolf also happens to be a native of Wisconsin, and one of the many former Clippers who remained classy and professional amid their unseemly surroundings.