Hector Amezcua / hamezcua@sacbee.com

DeMarcus Cousins, driving against the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday night, is being targeted by opponents who are attempting to get him into foul trouble, Kings coach Michael Malone said.

Kings' back-to-back losses show a lot of work lies ahead

Published: Monday, Nov. 4, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1C
Last Modified: Tuesday, Nov. 5, 2013 - 7:58 am

Three games into the regular season, the hoopla surrounding the Kings staying in Sacramento is fading as the reality about the team's on-court prospects sets in.

It's obvious there's still a lot of work to be done.

The good feelings after a season-opening win over a Denver team missing key players because of injuries have diminished after losses to the Los Angeles Clippers and the Warriors, two of the best teams in the Pacific Division.

The gap between the Kings and the league's elite was clear as the Clippers and Warriors exploited the Kings' defense, a weakness in recent seasons.

The loss to the Warriors was especially disheartening. The game opened with Warriors center Andrew Bogut scoring over Kings center DeMarcus Cousins, setting the tone for a performance that left coach Michael Malone expressing his disgust over his team's lack of fight.

For the Kings to become more competitive, they will need more production from the starting lineup, which has started games slowly, and more intensity from all the players, because as fiery as Malone can be, he's not on the floor.

"In order for us to win games, we all have to be engaged," starting point guard Greivis Vasquez said. "We (aren't) that good. We don't have three All-Stars, four All-Stars who can just get it done whenever they want to. We have to be worried about the team. It's not about who scored the most at the end of the night. It's about winning."

That has been Malone's mantra: Because the Kings don't have a superstar, they must give maximum effort every game.

But they already have shown that their habits in recent seasons – playing lax defense, not sticking to scouting reports and performing inefficiently on offense – won't disappear overnight.

The player the Kings believe has the most potential to be an All-Star is Cousins, who leads the team in scoring, rebounding, steals and blocked shots. But they need him to be more consistent.

The Warriors made a point to challenge Cousins defensively, and he picked up his third foul on Bogut while Bogut was on the perimeter and not a threat to score.

Cousins was called for a questionable foul just before that third foul, and it was clear the Warriors were trying to irritate him.

"If I'm somebody playing against us, I'm going to try to get DeMarcus in foul trouble, too," Malone said. "He's our best player, and if you can get our best player on the bench in foul trouble, that's going to be to (their) advantage."

Malone will continue to demand more from Cousins, who he reiterated is "the leader of our team." Malone said Cousins' pride might have gotten the best of him against Bogut, but he said the early problems aren't just about Cousins.

"(Cousins) has to be the key to our defense," Malone said. "Whether it's pick-and-rolls, in the post, he's got to be our communicator. As I said earlier, though, this is not just on DeMarcus Cousins. (The starters Saturday) did not bring the intensity and the fire that we need to start games."

The Kings aren't getting much offensive production from their starting forwards, with John Salmons and Patrick Patterson shooting a combined 23.8 percent (10 of 42).

"Guys aren't shooting the ball the way that we would all like right now," Malone said. "But if we continue to work on the defensive end and have better game-plan discipline, stay down on shot fakes, defend without fouling, I think those guys will be fine."

Malone hopes that applies to his entire roster.

Follow The Bee's Jason Jones on Twitter @mr_jasonjones and read more about the team at www.sacbee.com/kings.

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