Prior to a surprising 18-point home loss to the Toronto Raptors on Jan. 25 that preceded its current seven-game road trip, the Sacramento Kings claimed status as darlings of the NBA.
The Kings had ascended to first place in the Pacific Division behind the play of De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis, a pair of expected All-Stars playing the best basketball of their careers. Sacramento seemed assured of ending a postseason drought that stretches back 16 years on the back of the highest-scoring offense in the NBA and a style of play that earned countless raves.
On Sunday, with Fox sidelined for a second consecutive game due to personal reasons, the Kings suffered their worst loss of the season, 136-104, to a New Orleans Pelicans team missing a trio of starters. The Kings were lethargic from the opening tip and have struggled mightily against opponents playing the second game of a back-to-back.
On Monday, Sacramento will complete its own back-to-back when it plays the first of consecutive games in Houston against the Rockets, with the finale of the four-game season series set for Wednesday. Sacramento swept a pair of games against the Rockets at home on Jan. 11 and Jan. 13.
The Kings fell to 2-3 on their roadie and, suddenly, things don’t look quite as rosy.
“We’ve hit some adversity,” Kings coach Mike Brown said. “I’m interested to see how we respond from this adversity, not just short term but long term, as a team, but more importantly as individuals. Because when you hit adversity as an individual, your true colors come out. ...
“So right now, I’m going to sit back and I’m going to watch and I’m going to see how we’re all going to handle this adversity. It’s tough to go through, but it’s a great thing for this team to experience right now.”
For every incremental step forward, the Rockets follow with performances that cement their standing as the worst team in the NBA. After posting consecutive victories for the first time since mid-December with wins over the Detroit Pistons and Oklahoma City Thunder, Houston followed by blowing a double-digit lead at home against the Raptors on Friday before producing a non-competitive effort on the road against the Thunder in a 153-121 loss on Saturday.
The Rockets were playing for the third time in four days against the Thunder, and since they were in the second game of a back-to-back, were without Eric Gordon and Jae’Sean Tate in addition to Kevin Porter Jr., who missed his 12th consecutive game with a lingering toe injury.
Still, the Rockets had shown flashes of determined effort while in the midst of injury adversity. That they relented so completely to the obstacles they faced in Oklahoma City was jarring.
“Obviously, yeah, a lot stacked against us but you’ve got to step up in these situations,” Rockets coach Stephen Silas said. “And we didn’t do it. We succumbed to ... all the stuff as far as being stacked against us. We succumbed to it. We’re talking about winning habits, that’s not one.”