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  • HECTOR AMEZCUA / hamezcua@sacbee.com

    Kings coach Keith Smart makes a point to rookie forward Thomas Robinson during Monday's win over Golden State.

  • JIM MONE / Associated Press

    Coach Keith Smart seems to have succeeded in getting the Kings to play better defense. Only once in four games has an opponent shot better than 40 percent.

Four games in, Kings' defense does seem improved

Published: Wednesday, Nov. 7, 2012 - 12:00 am | Page 1C
Last Modified: Tuesday, Dec. 18, 2012 - 12:09 am

In seven years with the Golden State Warriors, Keith Smart gained a lot of experience working the sideline.

That stint also earned Smart the reputation – fair or not – as a coach who isn't concerned about defense.

Smart, in his second season as coach of the Kings, will tell you that's not the case.

He was schooled in defense starting in high school, and he played two seasons at Indiana for Hall of Fame coach Bob Knight.

"I've always had an understanding of defense," Smart said. "How to build a defensive team, what type of drills you needed to put the team into game-like situations."

But Smart's time with Golden State, including four years as an assistant under Hall of Fame coach Don Nelson, is best known for Nelson's offensive innovations.

Hence, Smart was deemed an offensive coach, a tag that hasn't been easy to shake since he took over the Kings early last season and they allowed the most points and highest field-goal percentage.

Smart has made defense his priority with the Kings this season.

With a full offseason and training camp, Smart began implementing his defensive philosophy of ball pressure, aggressive pick-and-roll defense and flooding the "cesspool" known as the paint.

So far this season, the Kings are listening.

Entering Tuesday, the Kings were first in three-point field-goal-percentage defense (.203), second in field-goal-percentage defense (.394), sixth in steals (9.75 per game) and ninth in blocks (6.75).

Only one team has shot better than 40 percent against the Kings this season.

Four games is a small sample size, but considering how bad the Kings have been on defense, it is a positive that the team is focused on defending.

In the past, knowing the scouting report on the opponent seemed to be an afterthought.

That's starting to change, too.

"We ask a lot of questions now," Chuck Hayes said. "Instead of letting it go in one ear and out the other, we let it sit in our heads and we think about it and we ask questions if we don't know or if it's something we didn't do last year."

Portland coach Terry Stotts has known Smart for a good while. He said the rap that Smart doesn't care about defense is unfair, noting the Kings coach was a good defender as a player.

"When I got the job in Milwaukee (in 2005), I wanted to hire him as my defensive coordinator," Stotts said. "He's an excellent coach on both sides of the ball."

Smart had a hard sell when it came to getting the Kings to play better defense.

It meant altering his starting lineup and convincing players that hadn't been asked to aggressively defend to be unselfish and work harder on defense for the good of the team.

Smart gives a defensive rating to each player that goes beyond statistics. The rating includes being in the right spot and has points for making the right adjustment on the fly.

These were emphasized from the start of training camp, and Smart did so to the point of not worrying much about the offense.

If the Kings defend well, Smart believes they have a chance to win every night and the offense will continue to improve.

"Overall, I don't think I have to sell (defense) now," Smart said. "I think they understand it now. They've bought into what we're doing."

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

Read more articles by Jason Jones



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