SAN ANTONIO 95, KINGS 92
It's not as if the Kings didn't accomplish anything on Sunday night.
They secured the worst record in the league and thus gave themselves the best possible shot (25 percent) at landing the No. 1 pick in June. They secured their place in history, guaranteeing that this season will go down as the worst in the franchise's 50 years. That much was already certain from the standpoint of winning percentage, but now they can claim the trophy for fewest wins (from 16 to 18, depending on outcome of final two games) than the 19-win Cincinnati Royals teams in 1958-59 and 1959-60 that played in 72 and 75 games, respectively. The home-record (11-30) was an all-time worst, too, both from a record and winning percentage standpoint.
And while the Kings were certainly robbed in their loss to the Spurs because of the game-winning Michael Finley three that shouldn't have counted, make no mistake about one thing: they left the door open for the burglars. Come to think of it, point guard Beno Udrih - and by extension coach Kenny Natt - answered the door and let them in.
It's not a coincidence that the Kings have lost 11 straight games that were decided by seven points or less, with the late failures hurting Natt's chances at winning the job every time. They almost always fall short in the most crucial possessions, and finishes like the latest one have been prompting shaking heads on press row - and even on the Kings bench - for some time.
In a late stretch in which the Kings missed their chance to secure the win, the worst offensive player on the floor for that particular night - Beno Udrih - was given the freedom to take four of the team's seven shots and thus further the opinion of his former team (and the rest of the league) that the Kings were out of their minds for giving him a five-year, $32 million deal last summer.
It went like this...
With the Kings up 84-83 and 5:37 to go, Natt brings Udrih back into the fray for Bobby Jackson and thereby breaks every rule of 'Fan Appreciation Night' when it comes to coaching in Sacramento. Showing real appreciation, of course, is letting B-Jax play 48 minutes. Kidding aside, though, Udrih enters having missed all eight of his attempts and going scoreless in 22 minutes. It's the perfect time, in other words, for him to take on the scoring load by himself. Yes, we're kidding again.
With 3:24 left, Udrih runs the break and has his eyes fixed squarely on the floor as an open and sprinting Jason Thompson waves his left hand ahead of him. Udrih keeps it, and eventually pulls up for an 11-footer that rims in for a 90-87 Kings lead. And heck, if it ain't broke then don't fix it.
With 1:39 left and the game tied 90-90, Udrih misses a 16-footer. With 1:06 to go and seven seconds left on the shot clock, Udrih drives left and puts up a forced four-foot attempt that falls well short. With 27 seconds, he is way short on a 14-footer with the game tied 92-92. Turns out it is broken after all, even if Natt didn't say so afterward.
While I only caught the postgame press conference via radio (new backup beat writer Jason Jones was covering on the night), I heard loud and clear that Natt said he stood by Udrih's attempts and his play. Standing by your player is admirable, but saying he did a good job of running the offense - which Natt did say - was going way too far.
If Francisco Garcia can so routinely be the one taking crucial fourth-quarter attempts when your No. 1 option - Kevin Martin - is playing, then why exactly wouldn't he be the one coming off screens for open looks when Martin isn't in? (Martin's season is, for all intents and purposes, over) Garcia - who was 5 of 10 shooting through three quarters - had two fourth-quarter attempts (both misses) after entering for the first time in the fourth with 5:37 left. And if anyone should be taking late shots even if they're having a horrific shooting night, anyone who watches this team on a consistent basis knows it's Garcia.
Instead, it was the ice-cold and rudder-less Udrih trying to down the Tim Duncan and Manu Ginobili-less Spurs on his own and Natt missing another chance to improve his position. - Sam Amick