Sacramento Kings head coach Dave Joerger has said since the preseason that he just wants his team to play hard and give the fans something to cheer for. On Sunday against the Toronto Raptors, Joerger, and the fans in the Golden One Center, got just that.
The Kings beat the Raptors for the second time this season after a team effort that led to 26 assists and a stifling defensive push in the second half.
"That's the team right there that I saw in the preseason that I got excited about coaching a bunch of guys that care about each other and go out and play really hard and let the chips fall where there may," Joerger said of his team.
The 102-99 win over the Raptors, which ended with a controversial last-second shot by Terrence Ross that was waved off because of the shot clock, was impressive, but it was only one game and the Kings still sit at 5-9 on the season. Not only that, but the sluggish, disoriented team we have come so accustomed to seeing in recent years has reared it's head many times so far this season.
So Joerger said he saw the team he saw in the preseason. What happened between then and now then?
"It's a work in progress. There's no magic wand for me that it’s just going to be perfect right away," Joerger said. "Like I keep saying, but nobody listens, that the Spurs and the Clippers are pretty darn good, they make a lot of teams look bad. I know people will say 'well it was how it looked,’ and there are times when I am concerned about that too, but we beat a very very good team tonight for the second time this season. And there's no switch to be turned on, there was just a pure hearted, let's do this thing togetherness tonight and hopefully that can carry forward."
In terms of the opponents, he has a point. In fact, only three of the Kings losses have come against teams currently outside of the 8th seed (Miami Heat, Orlando Magic, Milwaukee Bucks) in their respective conference. Those losses were also on the road. The other losses came against the San Antonio Spurs twice, Los Angeles Clippers, Portland Trail Blazers, Atlanta Hawks, and Los Angeles Lakers, which currently hold the 8th seed in the West at 7-7. The Kings are trying to learn how to not be bad, and there are still a lot of teams that have already figured that out. And yes, really good teams like the Spurs and Clippers can make them look really bad.
I recently wrote about how the Kings are attempting to break from their bad habits such as trying to outscore opponents, playing inconsistently, not using defense to stabilize the team and not following the game plan. Following last week’s loss to the Spurs, players talked about not taking shootarounds seriously. If the Kings are going to start beating the teams they should beat and squeak out some wins against teams they shouldn’t beat, it's on the players to look within, be professional and come together for each other more often. That is the case regardless of whether they play small ball or who is in the starting lineup.
Rudy Gay, who had a stellar night against his former Raptors squad Sunday, agreed with Joerger about the feel of the game.
"We played together, played for each other, and the ball moved,” Gay said.
Cousins said the defensive effort in the second half of Sunday's game against the Raptors showed something.
"I think we showed who we really are, what we're really capable of doing. We locked in as a team, we didn't get distracted with what was going on, if some things went our way, if it did or it didn't, just played basketball and that's what it is," Cousins said.
The players also have to get out of the mindset of assuming losses and not getting calls. After Ross hit the three that was called off by the refs because the ball was tipped and the clock hadn't started, Cousins thought the worst.
"I also knew we were going into overtime, that's just usually how things work for us," Cousins said.
Gay referenced the basketball gods.
"We don't ever get those breaks so it was really surprising,” Gay said. "I guess it was the basketball gods looking down on us because we played a really good game."
Let’s see what happens with this work in progress when another good team in the Oklahoma City Thunder come to town Wednesday.