The days of Chris Webber, Vlade Divac and White Chocolate holding court in Sacramento sure are long gone. In their wake is a mismatched team of could-be, would-be talents. And despite a monster game from backup shooting guard Marcus Thornton, the rested-and-waiting Kings weren't able to bring down the back-to-back-playing Nuggets in Sacramento on Tuesday night.
That's six straight wins for Denver. And eight losses out of ten games for Sacramento. Two franchises heading in opposite directions. And one, sadly, possibly heading to another city altogether.
Watching the 2012-13 Sacramento Kings eerily reminds me of watching the 2007-08 Seattle Supersonics. I call them "Dead Teams Walking". It's as if the ownership (in Sacramento's case, the awful Maloof brothers) knows the fix is in to move the team, so it works backward to ensure that the team is garbage, throwing cold water on any local, grass roots attempt to save the team. It happened in Seattle (the team stunk from 2005 onward as new owner Clay Bennett negotiated to buy and then bought the Sonics) and it's happening now in Sacramento, where for several years the Maloofs have been maneuvering to move the Kings ... first to Anaheim and now to, ironically, Seattle.
The casualties in all this, of course, are the die-hard fans and the employees who depend on professional basketball in their market. The only beneficiaries - if any - are the opponents who get to feast on these lowly outfits as they're on the verge of being moved. And in tonight's case, that beneficiary was our Denver Nuggets.
After matching the Kings 50-point effort at halftime with their own 50 points, the Nuggets leaped out to quick nine-point third quarter lead and essentially traded baskets with the Kings for the game's final 20 minutes. Leading the way for Denver was a balanced attack with many participants, including big back-to-back efforts from Ty Lawson, Danilo Gallinari (a nice bounce back game) and Kenneth Faried. And frankly, if the Nuggets could hit a free throw (god forbid), their seven-point victory would have been more like 17. More on the Nuggets shoddy free throw shooting in a moment.
Interestingly, the poor rebounding Kings out-rebounded the strong rebounding Nuggets, connected on 82.1% of their free throws, nearly matched the Nuggets with 28 attempts from the charity stripe and put up a normally impressive 113 points. Against any other team, those numbers should spell victory for Sacramento.
But as we've seen with so many Nuggets opponents this season, getting into a track meet with Denver is a recipe for disaster. By pushing the pace and the tempo, the Nuggets were able to overcome their poor free throw shooting and sub-par rebounding with 120 high quality points (evident by their 54.1% shooting from the field and an impressive 30 assists) and watching this game, you never got the sense that the Nuggets were in any danger of blowing it - even when the lead was truncated to six points on several occasions in the fourth quarter.
Now, about that free throw shooting. Missing 12 of 32 free throws as the Nuggets did on Tuesday might work against Sacramento, but it won't work against Memphis, San Antonio, Oklahoma City or either team from Los Angeles. I hate to sound hysterical or overly negative, but these missed free throws could cost the Nuggets a playoff series. No joke.
Nuggets head coach George Karl is known for having a healthy assortment of assistant coaches. Perhaps he should add one more named Mahmoud Abdul-Rauf or Michael Adams to teach these current Nuggets players how to hit a free throw. Because if the Nuggets don't right their free throw shooting woes soon, my optimism for a first round playoff series victory will increasingly diminish.
But until then, let's savor the Nuggets sixth straight win - coming on the second night of a back-to-back on the road. Poor free throw shooting or not, these Nuggets are learning how to win games and that's certainly encouraging.
Non-Stiff(s) of the Night
-Nuggets Starters: All five Nuggets starters made solid contributions to this game and each finished with a +/- of plus-six or over. It was especially nice seeing Gallo shake off his recent struggles with a big shooting night and seeing Andre Iguodala have a major impact on the game despite not being able to hit a field goal or free throw. Ugh, those free throws again!
Stiff of the Night
-DeMarcus Cousins: Cousins blocked five shots and grabbed 13 rebounds, but he connected on just one of his 12 field goal attempts and had his own shot blocked five times.
Six straight wins and the tough Los Angeles Clippers invade Pepsi Center for a nationally televised Thursday night affair. The Nuggets currently sit just 2.5 games back of the third-seeded Clippers. Dare I suggest that the Nuggets can catch them?
Save the Date - 3/19 March Madness Stiffs Night Out!
On Tuesday, March 19th we're going to kick off March Madness by watching the Nuggets take on the Thunder in Oklahoma City at 6pm from Jake's Food & Spirits. Free appetizers and 2-for-1 drinks will be served.
We will be distributing NCAA brackets for $10, with all of the proceeds going to the Denver Hooperz, a local non-profit that provide after school basketball programs to at-risk youth. Prizes - including Nuggets tickets - will be given out to bracket winners. Also, the Colorado Sports Guys (Nate Timmons and Ross Martin) will be live podcasting throughout the event - and it's Nate's birthday!