Defense. Defense. Defense.
It’s been the daily sermon of Kings coach Michael Maloneto a roster filled primarily with players whose basketball self-esteem is based on scoring.
The Kings are hearing the message, even if the results don’t always show in the win column. The Kings have shown they can defend when they focus on the game plan and stopping their opponents.
“That’s been the thing since Day One,” Kings guard Isaiah Thomas said. “If we defend, no matter how our offense is, you’re going to be in a lot of games. We did that the last two (games); we just couldn’t get the win. Hopefully, we can just learn from it.”
Malone’s mission to make defense a focus was going to test his patience. The Kings finished lastin points allowed in 2012-13 at 105.1per game and ranked 28th in opponents’ field-goal percentage at 47.2.
Entering Monday’s games, the Kings were 26th in points allowed at 103.5 and tied for 21st in opponents’ field-goal percentage at 46.2. Those numbers don’t make defensive purists smile, but for the Kings, they are small signs of progress.
“We’ve come a long way. I believe that in my heart,” Malone said. “And the reality is we have a ways to go. Our challenge is being consistent. We can have a few good games, like New Orleans and Milwaukee, and then have three bad games.”
The Kings host the Washington Wizards on Tuesday night in their return from a season-long seven-game trip in which they only won two games but improved defensively near its end.
In a win at Philadelphia on Wednesday, the Kings held the 76ers to 39.3 percent shooting, and in a loss at Chicago on Saturday, the Bulls shot 39.7 percent. In the final game of the trip, a loss at Minnesota on Sunday, the Timberwolves shot 43.6 percent. Overall, the Kings held opponents to 44.2 percent shooting and 100 points per game on the trip.
“I’m very happy with the way we defended in the last three games of this road trip,” Malone said. “We got one win, and our defense allowed us to stay in the Chicago game and the Minnesota game.”
There are still plenty of issues to sort out. The Kings put their opponents on the free-throw line too often. And there are still breakdowns that allow teams to score too easily in transition.
The team struggles defending the three-point line, where opponents are shooting 37.9 percent to rank 29th. The Kings also block 4.0 shots per game, tied for 26th.
Before the season, Malone said it’s difficult for any team to succeed when it ranks near the bottom of most defensive categories. That’s still the case, though there has been progress recently.
“I think we’re getting it down,” forward Rudy Gay said. “We’re getting the concept.”
Thomas said the effort in the past two losses show if the Kings could learn to defend consistently, they will have chances to win more in the final 15 games.
“We played hard both games,” Thomas said. “We played together, and we played hard for the most part. We gave ourselves a chance to win.”