Kings coach Mike Brown doesn’t know ‘if we’re all in’ after most lopsided loss to Pelicans

Matthew Hinton/AP

Whether it was lethargy, disinterest, the dog days of the schedule, the toll of the French Quarter or missing a star point guard for the second straight game, the Kings offered little against the New Orleans Pelicans on Sunday.

The Kings’ embarrassing 136-104 road loss dropped their record to 2-8 against opponents on the second night of a back-to-back, a confounding stat that belies their turnaround season. It was also Sacramento’s most lopsided defeat of the year.

The Pelicans shot 54% from the 3-point line while the Kings set the tone with porous defense in the early going, allowing New Orleans to make 10 of their first 12 shots before hitting 10 of 15 from 3 in the second and third quarters.

“Defensively, we can’t contain the dribble,” head coach Mike Brown told reporters in New Orleans. “We gave up 40 points (in the paint) in the first half, because guys were getting by us, getting to the rim and finishing in the paint. They didn’t have a post-up player on their team. ... Somehow, some way, we gotta figure out how we’re going to contain the dribble.”

Sacramento maintained sole possession of the No. 3 seed in the Western Conference afterwards, but the Kings sit just two games ahead of the Minnesota Timberwolves. The Timberwolves, another team the Kings lost to on the second night of a back-to-back to start their current road trip, are seventh in the West and in line for the play-in tournament. Sacramento is 3 ½ games ahead of the 11th-place Portland Trail Blazers, who would miss the postseason altogether if the season ended today.

Which goes to show how delicate the Kings’ season could be and why stacking losses against beatable opponents could hurt them down the road.

The Pelicans were missing three of their top four leading scorers, and played a night earlier, when they snapped their 10-game losing streak with a win over the Los Angeles Lakers. It was Sacramento’s second straight loss after falling Friday in Indiana, a night after the Pacers also played the Lakers, which means the Kings have lost three games on this road trip to opponents playing on the second night of a back-to-back.

No Sacramento starter on Sunday had more than 12 points. The starting lineup was outscored 86-41. The Kings were without De’Aaron Fox, who remained away from the team for the second straight game due to personal reasons, but the Pelicans were missing All-Star starter Zion Williamson, wing scorer Brandon Ingram and center Jonas Valanciunas.

No matter. New Orleans got 34 points from Trey Murphy and 24 from CJ McCollum, who combined to shoot 18 of 22 from the floor. Backup big man Willy Hernangomez added 22 points and 16 rebounds. Reserve guard Malik Monk led the Kings with 16 points, while all five of Sacramento’s starters were minus-28 or worse.

There were other unsettling trends that continued as the Kings head to Houston to end their season-long seven-game road trip against the Rockets with games Monday and Wednesday. Sacramento again struggled from 3, finishing 11 of 42 (26.2%), marking the fourth time in their last five games they’ve made fewer than 30% of their 3s. They began the road trip shooting 37.2% on the season.

Kevin Huerter, Keegan Murray and Davion Mitchell were all given garbage minutes in the fourth quarter to snap out of their collective funks. Huerter entered the night making four of his 22 3s on the road trip and did not score until the fourth, when he had 10 points. Murray also went scoreless during the first 36 minutes before getting a single bucket in the fourth. Mitchell finished with 10 points while making one of his six shots from behind the arc.

Domantas Sabonis finished with 12 points and 11 rebounds. Rookie guard Keon Ellis played well in 16:28 of garbage time, scoring 10 points with four rebounds, two assists and two steals. Recent G League call-up Deonte Burton made his Kings debut after signing a 10-day contract last week. He played four minutes and missed his only shot attempt.

The Kings could be hitting a wall ahead of the All-Star break. But things won’t get any easier this week. Sunday’s game was the first of five contests over the next seven nights, including a back-to-back Monday in Houston and a pair of games Friday and Saturday against the Dallas Mavericks, who traded for Kyrie Irving on Sunday.

“Not that anybody wants to go through this, but I think this is good for our guys,” Brown said. “Because we’ve had a pretty good year so far and we’ve experienced a lot of highs. Now, we hit a little adversity ... because we’re not hitting shots, we’re turning the ball over, we’re not getting stops, and we’ve dropped two in a row.

“I’m interested to see how we respond from this adversity, not just short term but long term. ... When you hit adversity as an individual, your true colors come out. And right now, I don’t know if we’re all in like we talked about at the beginning of the year.

“So right now, I’m going to sit back and watch and I’m going to see how we handle this adversity. It’s tough to go through, but it’s a great thing for us to go through right now. Because at the end of the day, if we do expect to make the playoffs, if we do expect to advance in the playoffs, we’re going to have to deal with adversity. We’re going to have to handle it individually and as a group. And right now, I don’t think we’re doing a very good job with it.”

It’s unclear when Fox will return to the team. His chances at becoming an All-Star replacement increased when the Golden State Warriors announced All-Star starter Stephen Curry could miss multiple weeks with a leg injury.

In the meantime, the Kings need to sweep both their games against the Rockets, owners of the worst record in the Western Conference (13-40), to finish their long trip away from Golden 1 Center above .500. Sacramento is 2-3 since hitting the road Jan. 28.