After the Kings squandered a nine-point fourth-quarter lead at San Antonio to absorb their seventh consecutive loss Saturday, coach Michael Malone delivered a message to his team that may have seemed oddly timed, considering the circumstances.
I told our team after the San Antonio game and it wasnt just coach talking, because I never blow smoke at our guys I really feel like were not far away, Malone said before the Kings played the Chicago Bulls on Monday night.
Specifically, Malone was talking about the Kings defensive effort. Acknowledging his teams record (15-32 before Monday) and defensive rankings (28th in points allowed and 30th in opponents field-goal percentage) might not support his words, Malone said he took some encouragement out of close losses at Dallas (107-103) and San Antonio (95-93).
If we wouldve gotten just one more stop per half (in those games), their 48 percent (shooting) goes down to 45, Malone said. My challenge to our team is, Lets just get one more stop per quarter. And if you look at the numbers, if we got one more stop per quarter, wed be holding teams to 43 percent.
That would be a significant accomplishment for the Kings, who entered Monday allowing the opposition to shoot 46.9 percent from the field. The league average was 45.2 percent, while the Bulls, a well-respected defensive team, were holding opponents to 43.3 percent, the third-best mark in the league.
Malones message was that the difference between victory and defeat can be that narrow and that the Kings have had some of their better defensive efforts when adopting a one-possession-at-a-time mentality.
Thats all it is, is one more stop per quarter, and that requires discipline, effort, trust, communication, all those things, Malone said. Were competing. We have to close some games out, and we have to defend a little bit better for a little bit longer.
Guard Marcus Thornton said it was encouraging to hear a positive message from Malone amid the Kings longest skid of the season.
You look at our last seven games that we lost, weve been in them, Thornton said. Its just a stop here and there we need to get us over the hump. He was just trying to put the onus on us to do that.
Forward Jason Thompson agreed there were positives from the last two losses but added, We dont want to be close. We want to be there.
Its kind of been a broken record a little bit, Thompson said, but it doesnt matter whos on the floor. I feel like all of us have to look in the mirror and be able to (protect) leads, get stops when we need to, get rebounds when we need to and help the team out.