The Sacramento Kings got their doors blown off again on Thursday. This time, Sacramento got bullied by a Dallas Mavericks team playing its third game in four nights, on the second night of a road-back-to-back, after getting torched by Stephen Curry and the Golden State Warriors, and without stars Dirk Nowitzki (rest) and Rajon Rondo (broken face). No matter — despite getting off to a slow start and shooting just 42.7 percent from the floor as a team, Monta Ellis sparked a 25-8 blitz that effectively ended the Kings' evening by halftime.
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The Kings have now lost 10 of their last 11, including six straight defeats in the not-so-friendly confines of Sleep Train Arena. A season that showed such promise during the Kings' 9-5 start has come completely unglued, beginning with DeMarcus Cousins' bout with viral meningitis and continuing with the stunning firing of head coach Mike Malone, followed by a rosterwide regression under replacement Tyrone Corbin.
After a fifth straight loss by at least 10 points, All-Star center Cousins said he's "absolutely" as frustrated as he's been in his five-year career. He placed the blame squarely on himself and his teammates, saying the Kings need a substantial increase in their effort level to turn things around:
(Sacramento's News 10 has a longer video of Cousins' postgame session with reporters.)
It's coming down to playing hard, man. Get some pride, man. Just have some self-respect. Act like you care. That's what it's coming down to. Ain't nothing wrong with the team. It's the same team. Same team that was winning, it's the same guys in the locker room now. Ain't nothing changed but the attitudes with these guys in the room. Everybody in this room, that's the only thing that's changed: our attitudes. [...]
I mean, everybody in here has played basketball a long time. Everybody knows teams go on runs. Everybody knows, just as quick as they get a run, you can, too. Just keep playing. Keep playing hard. I mean, you see a team get on a run, stop the bleeding, and then try to create a run on your own. [...]
Like I said, we're the same team. The same team that everyone was praising at the beginning of the year, it's the same team. So yes, we can [turn things around]. It's just a matter of us changing our attitude.
Some might raise an eyebrow at Cousins, who finished with a team-high 23 points and 11 rebounds in the loss, calling for more commitment and harder play in the same week where he stood idly by as his man threw down an alley-oop dunk. But Boogie copped to his own occasional inconsistency in this regard — "My body language has been bad, as well. I need to straighten it out myself. I need to lead by example" — and sure seemed to try to do that on Thursday, hustling to chase down and swat away an Ellis layup late in the third quarter, even after the Mavs had already piled up a 24-point lead:
Continuing to plug away no matter the deficit was at the core of Cousins' critique, during which he said Sacramento's on-court actions need to speak louder than any in-the-locker-room words.
"We've had player-only meetings," Cousins said when asked if the Kings needed to have an internal pow-wow to right the ship. "Honestly, I don't think we would get anything out of it. It's something within each guy in this locker room. It's about, like I said, having self-respect, some type of pride, and taking your job serious.
"Come in every night ready to play, regardless of the circumstances. Just man up and play, man. Just play hard. If we play hard and get our brains beat in, I'm fine with that. But to just come out and lay down like we did tonight, it's unacceptable. I can't ... nah."
Cousins refused to peg for Sacramento's decline to Malone's ouster or place the blame at Corbin's feet — “We’re not going there,” he said and repeated when a reporter raised the issue. Whether the Kings were too hasty in dismissing Malone or not, Cousins knows that at this point, the question is moot. The answers have to come from the players in the locker room — veterans like Rudy Gay, Jason Thompson, Darren Collison and Ramon Sessions, and young guns like Ben McLemore and Nik Stauskas — and as Boogie sees it, they've got to come from a collective approach to finding a way out of the depths.
"We know if we start fighting one another, if we let our frustrations get the best of us, it's only going to make the situation worse," Cousins said. "We know that. So why buy into it? Why not catch it before it comes and try to change it? If we buy into it, it spreads throughout the team and you get nights like this."
With the Kings now sitting at 17-31, 9 1/2 games back of the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference, it's too late for Cousins and company to ignite the kind of turnaround that would put Sacramento back in the playoff conversation. But unless something sparks the Kings out of their doldrums, enervating losses and their attendant venting sessions figure to become much, much more common.
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