SACRAMENTO – Head coach Michael Malone didn’t follow scientific rules. But the conclusion of his research will be much more valuable than the final score.
The Sacramento Kings (28-54) lost their final game of the season hosting the Phoenix Suns (48-24) in front of a sellout crowd 104-99. With the Kings leading 76-71 after three quarters, Malone elected to run Ray McCallum, Ben McLemore, Travis Outlaw, Quincy Acy and Aaron Gray for the rest of the game. The Suns, who were eliminated from the playoffs on Monday, chose to similarly field a second unit until the last buzzer.
The results were disastrous. The Kings shot 28.6 percent from the floor in the period and failed to stop Archie Goodwin (career-high 29 points on 11-of-13 shooting for the night). But there were flashes of brilliance, from McCallum’s steady hand to McLemore’s assertiveness and Acy’s tenacity on the boards. For Malone, the fourth quarter was essentially the start of the offseason.
“When you win 28 games, you always have to find ways to get better,” Malone quipped. “And you have different avenues to make that happen.”
“Pete and I will sit down and talk about our roster, what we think our needs are, what we need to address this offseason, so we come back a better and more complete basketball team.”
Malone was surely impressed by McLemore, who finished with a career-high 31 points and 5 assists. The 2013 lottery pick did his damage from deep and attacking the basket, collecting 15 free throw attempts along the way. It was a warm ending to a rocky rookie campaign.
Fellow 2013 draftee McCallum finished with 13 points off the bench, including a thunderous alley-oop slam to open the fourth quarter. The assist was credited to Outlaw, who scored 15 points in 25 minutes.
While a win wasn’t the upmost priority on Wednesday, the loss gave the Kings 54 sad endings for the season. Malone made the message clear to his players and staff what the objective is moving forward.
“We all, myself included, have to come back (as) better players and better coaches, because we cannot be a 28-win team next year,” he exclaimed. “And if we all make the sacrifices and make improvements and come back better, we will be a better team before then.”
The Kings are slowly shedding their losing culture. But as Malone noted, in the summer every man must hit a gear never reached before. Only time will tell if the remaining holdovers have the heart to climb the ladder in the Western Conference.
Photo Credit: Jose Villegas / Sacbee.com