Photo by Rocky Widner
As if it wasn't bad enough that center DeMarcus Cousins has been out for almost three weeks with viral meningitis. The Kings fired head coach Michael Malone early this week that sent shock waves throughout the organization. No clear reason why he was fired other than the loses accumulating without Cousins left many baffled. But in this business the show must go on! Assistant head coach Tyrone Corbin took over coaching duties last night for the first time.
"We have to be ready for OKC tonight," said Corbin pre-game. "They're not going to feel sorry for us. This won't happen over night, it's a process and we understand that."
The goal is to stay focused and play good basketball. The tandem of Cousins and Rudy Gay has been unstoppable but without Cousins Sacramento has won 2-8 in his absence. Cousins missed his tenth straight game, and Sacramento lost it's fourth straight and third consecutive at home. It's a tough time to learn a new style, the rumors are that the Kings want a more uptempo type of game than what Michael Malone coached.
"It's unfortunate, but it's part of the business," Thunder head coach Scott Brooks said on Malone's firing. "He did a good job, they lost an important part of their team but they still need to compete. You can't make excuses; this is a 'I-don't-feel-sorry-for-you' league. When our guys got hurt I didn't get a lot of 'hang-in-there' texts from the other 29 coaches."
Unfortunately for Sacramento, not much changed when they hosted OKC last night at Sleep Train Arena. After Russell Westbrook put up a 32-point night, the Kings fell 104-92 to the Thunder. Westbrook finished with seven assists, Kevin Durant had 26 points and Serge Ibaka had seven blocked shots. The once-injured duo looked like they're back to true form. The Thunder took an early 16-point lead in the first quarter.
"Turnovers, the mistakes we made, it was bad execution," Corbin said. "We had that one-point lead then they made a 9-0 run,"
The Kings took the lead twice in the fourth behind Carl Landry's jumpers but OKC's defense was too much. Both Westbrook and Durant took turns making shots to give the Thunder a 10-point lead with two minutes remaining. From there, Sacramento had nothing left. They had a combined total of 17 turnovers which was problem under Malone. They Kings were outplayed and out rebounded in the fourth.
"They played good," said Landry. "We've got to take our hats off to those guys. They hung in there and came out with the win in the end. We can't make excuses, not having coach Malone, not having coach Jent and the change. We've just got to be a better team."
"Defensively, I think we've been locked in," Durant said who played a season-high 35 minutes since returning. "We have little spurts where we're bad but overall I think we did a good job in playing defense."
"We just took our time, ran out sets, and executed," said Westbrook. "Tonight we showed growth I think as a team and maturity as a unit."
The Kings will host the Bucks and Lakers later this week and must find a way to move on without their former coach or Cousins in the starting lineup. The team is also without Omri Casspi who is out with a left knee bone contusion. Landry came off the bench with 14 points and four rebounds. Rudy Gay recorded a team-high 22 points, six rebounds and three assists. Sacramento will need more contribution from all if they want to get back into good standings in the Western Conference.