With four road games to kick off their season and a rebuilding project well under way, the Sacramento Kings knew they might be in for a rough start.
What they didn’t figure on was a disastrous one.
Fresh off three blowout losses, the winless Kings head into their home opener on Wednesday night against the Memphis Grizzlies, a team they haven’t lost to at Arco Arena in 10 years.
Sacramento (0-4) has nine players on its roster with no more than four years of NBA experience, and veteran center Brad Miller was suspended for the season’s first five games for violating the league’s anti-drug policy.
The Kings have shown every bit of their inexperience so far, losing by an average of 20 points and allowing a league-high 111.8 per game. Sacramento delivered its worst performance yet on Monday in Philadelphia, falling behind by as many as 40 points in a 125-91 loss to the 76ers.
“You can’t win in the NBA if you give up 120 points a game,” coach Reggie Theus said. “I told them that is not acceptable, from the leaders all the way down. In order to win, you have to be tough-minded, and right now we’re not tough-minded.”
The Kings haven’t started with five straight losses since beginning the 1990-91 season 0-7. They haven’t lost at home to the Grizzlies franchise, though, since 1998 - winning 19 consecutive games.
Sacramento will be without Miller for one more game, but the young duo trying to make up for his absence has done a solid job. Rookie Jason Thompson is averaging 14.3 points and 7.0 rebounds while shooting 62.5 percent from the field, and second-year center Spencer Hawes is scoring 12.5 points and grabbing 9.3 rebounds.
They will get a solid test from another young big man when Memphis (2-2) comes to town. Rookie Marc Gasol, trying to replace the inside presence of brother Pau, dominated Golden State on Monday.
In his fourth career start, the younger Gasol went 9-for-11 from the field and 9-for-11 from the line, finishing with 27 points and 16 rebounds as Memphis won 90-79.
He also had three blocks, and credits his defense for leading to solid production at the other end.
“I always think that the defense should give you a lot of confidence on offense,” Gasol said. “It’s hard for me to just come out and just play offense, shoot and don’t play defense. I don’t get confidence like that.”
Gasol certainly seems to be making a difference with the Grizzlies’ defensive attitude. Memphis gave up 106.9 ppg last season, the third-most in the league. Four games into 2008-09, it’s allowing 85.3 ppg - fourth-best in the NBA.
“I really think all five guys are working together, talking, moving together as one team, and just taking a lot of pride in our defense,” said fellow rookie O.J. Mayo, averaging 14.0 points and 1.3 steals.
The Grizzlies’ defense will try to clamp down on Kings guard Kevin Martin, who leads his team with 17.8 ppg.
But Martin’s scoring average is down nearly six points from last season, and one of the league’s most consistent shooting guards is struggling with his accuracy. Martin shot 46.9 percent from the field over the last three seasons, but he’s only made 38.6 percent in his first four games.
In three games against Memphis last season, Martin shot just 38.8 percent but averaged 32.7 points.