In a preseason game against the Los Angeles Clippers in October, Kings coach Michael Malone referred to a tough defensive night as rookie Ben McLemores NBA baptism, courtesy of Jamal Crawford.
McLemore continues to be immersed in the ways of NBA defense the hard way. The latest example came Saturday night in the Kings 108-97 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves at Sleep Train Arena.
This time Kevin Martin took it to the rookie. The former King got going early, making 6 of 7 shots in the first quarter on his way to a game-high 26 points.
McLemore continues to struggle on offense. He had seven points and a team-high five turnovers. But his problems on defense are a bigger concern lately.
(Martin) came out in the first quarter and got whatever he wanted, Malone said. Ben has to be able to lock in and be able to defend guys at a higher level. The shots going to come but defensively I think he has to do a better job of understanding who hes guarding and what the game plan may be.
McLemore has had trouble defensively during the season, but lately its been extremely tough for him. It began Tuesday, when Houstons James Harden scored 22 first-quarter points before finishing with a season-high 43 in only 31 minutes.
Friday against the Los Angeles Lakers, MarShon Brooks went after McLemore and ended up with a season-high 23 points. Brooks wasnt in the rotation for two teams this season until being dealt to the Lakers.
I think I just need to go back to the principles as far as the defense, McLemore said. Moving my feet and playing more aggressive. Just keeping that mindset to play hard. I think Ive been slacking a little bit and I need to pick it up. Thats something I know I can do.
This was McLemores first time playing against Martin extensively. In the Kings first meeting against the Timberwolves in Minneapolis, McLemore left the game early because of a sprained ankle.
Martin is a crafty scorer, skilled at initiating contact. That included catching McLemore with an elbow.
He got a couple cheap shots, and thats how he plays, McLemore said. Just going into the game, I knew he was going to be a good matchup. I knew what I was going against, playing against a great shooter, a great guy that can move without the ball and get his shot.
It doesnt get any easier for McLemore. Mondays opponent, New Orleans, has two guards in Eric Gordon and Tyreke Evans who will look to go after McLemore.
Youve got to step up in this league aint nothing to it but to do it, Malone said. Hes got to go out there and show he can guard these guys.
McLemore said the rough stretch hasnt shaken him.
My confidence is still there, he said. I just have to get back to how I was earlier this season. Everyone knows I can play defense, that I can guard solid.
The Kings (20-39) lost their third straight and fell into a tie with the Lakers for last place in the Western Conference.
DeMarcus Cousins returned to the lineup after a one-game suspension for punching Houstons Patrick Beverley in the stomach. Cousins had 21 points and 17 rebounds. But the Kings helped the Timberwolves (29-29) plenty with 19 turnovers that led to 27 points.
We have a lot teams with their hands in there and they strip the ball away from us, Cousins said. I also believe that we over-dribble too much at times. We have two or three guys around us at times, so we have to find an open man. Thats where a lot of our turnovers come from.
The Kings led 56-53 at halftime thanks to Rudy Gays 22 first-half points. Gay, however, had only three more shots and two more points.