Dave Joerger woke up Thursday morning ready to seize the day.
First, the Kings coach said he grabbed a cup of coffee and gulped it down. Refreshed and caffeinated, Joerger reminded the Kings before practice that Wednesday night’s loss to the San Antonio Spurs went beyond losing to one of the league’s elite teams.
Joerger took the blame for the 110-105 loss, a game that wasn’t nearly as close as the score indicated, saying in his postgame news conference: “(We) made the game very, very easy for the Spurs. And it’s on me because I allowed a very loose shootaround (earlier in the day).”
Things don’t expect to get much easier with the Clippers visiting Golden 1 Center on Friday.
Said Joerger after Thursday’s practice, “We learned from (the Spurs loss) and try to move on. It doesn’t matter if we’re playing the Spurs or a team not as good. We didn’t come in with the right focus, the right amount of force. It’s not to say we didn’t play hard. It’s not that we laid down. We didn’t play with attitude or aggression and pace.”
Such is life for an NBA team with so many new pieces. Bad outings, the coach said, “just happen.” Still, Joerger wouldn’t tip his hand if he’ll tweak the starting lineup that has featured Ty Lawson and Arron Afflalo at guard and Rudy Gay, Kosta Koufos and DeMarcus Cousins in the frontcourt.
The two players seemingly not going anywhere in the lineup are Cousins and Gay, the team’s leading scorers. But when one or both players struggle to score, the entire team tends to sputter. Cousins had 26 points against San Antonio, but Gay managed just 11 on 3-of-11 shooting.
“If one of them is having a tough night, it’s going to be a tough night for us,” Joerger said.
Joerger said changing the Kings’ lineup regularly won’t fix what ails them.
“You don’t want to get into a pattern of changing night to night,” he said. “You want to get in a rhythm for a period of time and let players play their way in or play their way out.”
Familiarity and experience lead to chemistry, Joerger said, pointing to the Memphis Grizzlies, whom he coached to three consecutive playoff appearances, and the Warriors, Spurs and Clippers.
“The Clippers are one of the top three teams in the West, firing on all cylinders,” he said. “They have a lot of corporate knowledge. They’ve played together a long time. They know where each other is going on the floor. Same with the Spurs. The chemistry of being together so long, reading each other, where to cut. Look at Vlade and Peja here (years ago). They always knew. That takes time. You get that through a course of seasons and from playoff battles. That’s the big advantage of keeping a core together.”
The one aspect the Kings can control is effort. After the Spurs game, some players bemoaned a lack of focus. Lawson said of shootarounds, “(We) don’t take it serious.”
“I’ll take the blame for that as the leader of this team,” Cousins said after the game. “I’ve got to get my guys together.”
The bench energized the Kings against the Spurs’ reserves, trimming a double-digit lead in the closing moments. Ben McLemore, who scored 14 points Wednesday, said he isn’t dismayed by his team’s 4-8 start.
“We don’t like losing,” McLemore said. “At the end of the day, we’re a great team. We’re still trying to understand each other. We’ll be fine. It’s a long season. We can pick it up. That’s what’s important. Coach stressed that: Pick it up from the start.”