Amid the clouds of early fourth quarter, a silver lining for the Kings of Sacramento



Numbers can be calculated, tabulated and displayed as desired. The old-fashioned way – straight totals – shows the ugliness: In four games, the Kings scored 88 points in the fourth quarter while relinquishing 125, a 37-point deficit over a 48-minute span and lost all four quarterback they have played so far. The figures put forward are not that pretty either. The Kings are dead last in efficiency in the fourth quarter, according to stats, with a net score of minus-31.8 points per 100 possessions in the fourth quarter this year. It’s significantly worse than NBA No.29 Phoenix, who has a net score of minus-26.7.

Filming? The Kings make 39.2 percent of their shots in the fourth quarter, 29e in the NBA. Opponents shoot much better, 44.3% from the field, which ranks 20e defensively. There is more. Kings are 26 years olde in the rebounds in the fourth trimester (9.8) and don’t attack the basket so often, ranked 28e during free throw attempts in the last period.

It’s been a late-game black hole for the Kings so far this year, something Coach Like Walton touched on earlier this week.

“We have to be a lot better in the fourth quarter,” said Walton. “Yes, of course we do. It starts with, part of the problem is that we slow down, which I understand is kind of natural in the fourth. But we have to go out and go, so yeah, we have to be a lot better in the fourth quarter. “

It’s almost instinctive, as the Kings now sit 16 seasons away from their last playoff appearance, to go straight to the negative when it comes to Sacramento. Their current run of fourth-quarter flops can be seen this way – more failures of a franchise accustomed to the short end of the stick – but after speaking with a Western Conference assistant coach who recently spotted the Kings, he it’s easy to see where the Kings are now quite positive.

“For me,” said the coach, “the real story is that they’ve been there in every game they’ve played. In every quarter that they’ve played, they’ve had a lead or been one or two possessions ahead. That means they played well. They were aggressive, they are running out of misses, they were one of the top two or three teams in the league in transition. And that’s with a really tough schedule and their top player isn’t doing much.

Indeed, the Kings are still waiting for the star point guard De’Aaron Fox, the centerpiece of the franchise, to get going. He’s averaging 18.3 points, down from 25.2 last year, and shooting 37.7% from the field and 16.7% on the 3-point line. Add 4.3 unsightly turnovers and Fox gets off to a horrible start. He will come out of this crisis, however, and the Kings will be much better off.

The schedule was also tough. The Kings started with Portland, then went on to have Utah, Golden State and Phoenix. The Jazz are undefeated, the Warriors are 4-1 and the Suns are the defending champions of the West. The Blazers should be a playoff team. That the Kings had a chance to win all four games could be a good sign for this team.

Heck, they’re 2-2 against these heavyweights from the West, with some promising developments in the way they play. The Kings are fourth in counterattacking points (25.0 per game) and tied for third in counterattack efficiency (1.22 points per possession). They got an All-Star start from Harrison Barnes (26.8 points), saw 3-point ace Buddy Hield return to his perimeter form (44.2% of the arc) as young gurd Tyrese Halliburton continued to develop. Exiting .500 is a good start.

Now all the Kings have to do is figure out how to end games, how to build some self-confidence to withstand the perils of time critical. Walton hopes this is the next step.

“It’s part of the process of learning how to win in this league,” he said. “It’s being strong with the ball. It’s about making tough choices for people to open up. You know the other team’s defense is going to build up over time. We have to be better at executing these little details to keep creating open plans and that’s really what we’re trying to do. If we get any open plans, we’ll do them. But there has to be a full understanding of what it takes to make it on the home stretch.

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