Nerlens Noel had 14 points and 10 rebounds.

By Mary Cunningham

If this game were played next season, it would be:

The Game That Got Away.

But this season, chalk it up to a learning experience for the very young Sixers who lost last night to the Sacramento Kings 107-106.

Kings center DeMarcus Cousins, whom the Sixers passed on to take the ordinary Evan Turner with the No. 2 pick in the 2010 draft, had 33 points, 17 rebounds, four steals and four blocks for the Kings, who dealt the 76ers their 16th straight road loss.

On Philly’s final possession, Cousins stepped in front of a driving Hollis Thompson and poked the ball free and it landed in the hands of teammate Ray McCallum in the closing seconds to preserve the victory.

Not known for their defense, the Kings limited the Sixers a to no field goals and three points in the final 6:12 of the game. Sacramento forced 16 of Philadelphia’s 20 turnovers in the second half, which was a major factor in a comeback that led to the Kings’ first-three-game winning streak since late November.

“They heated up defensively in the second half. We had 70 points at halftime and I’m sure that inspired them,” 76ers coach Brett Brown said. “They did a good job of pushing us out of stuff.”

The Kings made up for a horrible defensive first half and they trailed 70-63 at intermission.

“I told them at halftime they stunk (defensively),” coach George Karl said. “Cuz had some incredible defensive plays down the stretch. He had a big game defensively.”

Rudy Gay had 21 points and eight rebounds and McCallum added 11 points for the Kings, who have a 7-11 record since Karl began coaching the team in mid-February.

Robert Covington had five 3-pointers and scored 21 points for the 76ers. Ex-King Thomas Robinson had a career-high 16 points, Nerlens Noel had 14 points and 10 rebounds, and both Isaiah Cnaan and Ish Smith had 13 points.

McCallum rebounded a missed shot by Cousins underneath the basket and gave the Kings a 107-105 lead with 46.7 seconds remaining.

It was a struggle offensively all game for the Kings, who shot 36 percent. Even Cousins was ineffective down low. Often double-teamed, he missed 19 of 27 shots, but made 17 of 19 free throws.

“Coach wanted us to gang block on Cousins as a team. Once he made his moves he wasn’t kicking the ball back out,” Covington said. “We’d rather others try to make a play instead of him getting the ball and making plays.”

Trailing by seven points, Covington hit two 3-pointers and had a three-point play in a 38-second span, putting the 76ers ahead 100-98 with 6:44 left. Another 3 a short time later gave the Sixers a 103-100 lead.

“We need to attack the ball more,” Karl said. “We get stuck in no-man’s land where we don’t cover anyone. That happened too often tonight.”


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