One of the few defensive highlights from the Kings’ 102-88 loss to Minnesota on Monday night came midway through the second quarter. After losing a jump ball on the offensive end, forward Skal Labissiere sprinted back upcourt, caught up with Timberwolves guard Kris Dunn and rejected Dunn’s layup attempt with his left hand.
The play reflected in multiple ways the Kings’ state. Labissiere, the 28th overall pick in last year’s draft, has played nearly half his total minutes this season in the last three games since the trade of DeMarcus Cousins to New Orleans left the rotation in flux.
“I don’t know how (playing time) will come out every single night,” coach Dave Joerger said recently, “but (Labissiere) is a lot closer to being in the rotation and getting some consistent minutes.”
Labissiere scored a career-high 12 points in a win over Denver on Thursday and had 13 rebounds in 23 minutes in a loss to Charlotte on Saturday. His minutes dropped to 14 on Monday, as did his production – four points, six rebounds.
Whatever the defense gives you, that’s what you need to do. A couple times, people were getting in the lane and the corner man’s naked, wide open, and we’re still forcing layups or little floaters. Everybody has a lot more freedom … But you can’t just go down and chuck up every shot.
Ty Lawson, Kings guard
“Just trying to help the team as much as I can as far as defending,” Labissiere said after Monday’s loss. “That’s what we’re trying to do here. Defending, run the floor hard and block shots, rebound – whatever I can do to help my team win.”
His block of Dunn, though, stood out on a night when point guard Ty Lawson admitted the Kings “just didn’t show out” defensively. Perhaps the most glaring statistic was the Kings getting outrebounded 52-42, which led to Minnesota’s 23-8 margin in second-chance points. And this is one area where the Kings are still adjusting to their changed roster.
In Cousins (traded) and Matt Barnes (released), the Kings lost two of their four leading rebounders, with a third, Rudy Gay, out for the year because of an Achilles’ injury. Also, without Cousins in the middle and with a guard-heavy roster, some Kings now face size mismatches on defense.
“It’s tough because we haven’t really worked on doubling (opposing players),” Lawson said. “We always had DeMarcus or big wings; Rudy was out there. But we’ve got to learn where we’re coming to double at, who we’re doubling off of, how we’re going to rotate. We haven’t done that all year, so it’s kind of tough for us to just do it on the fly.”
With the Kings limited at the wing, Ben McLemore bore the brunt of the mismatches the past three games. At times the 6-foot-5 McLemore was asked to guard the Nuggets’ Danilo Gallinari (6-10) and Wilson Chandler (6-8) and the Timberwolves’ Andrew Wiggins (6-8), who had 27 points Monday.
“I’m always up for a challenge,” McLemore said. “It’s about just beating that guy to the spot, pushing him out farther from his catches. Just being aggressive with it.”
The Kings are also adjusting to new personnel on offense. And Lawson said the lack of rhythm there translates onto defense, citing it partly for the Timberwolves’ easy baskets in transition Monday.
I don’t know how (playing time) will come out every single night, but he is a lot closer to being in the rotation and getting some consistent minutes.
Dave Joerger, Kings coach, on rookie Skal Labissiere
“Whatever the defense gives you, that’s what you need to do,” Lawson said. “A couple times, people were getting in the lane and the corner man’s naked, wide open, and we’re still forcing layups or little floaters. Everybody has a lot more freedom … But you can’t just go down and chuck up every shot.
“I think that’s what we’re doing right now. And that’s when they get the rebound and we have no defensive balance. Because I don’t know a shot’s going up. It’s not like a feel for the shot that everybody wants. So we’re not really getting back on time. I feel like that’s feeding into our defensive problems, too.”
A brief respite in the schedule should give the Kings a chance to build some familiarity in practice. The team practiced Tuesday and likely will hold two more sessions in a three-day window between hosting Brooklyn on Wednesday and Utah on Sunday, Joerger said.
“This is good,” Lawson said. “Just go through the plays. I’ll be able to call things on the run – and just be able to get into spots, that’s the main thing. It’s maybe just one person missing here on this play, one person missing here, but that’s still messing up our timing. So (the practice) is going to be good for us.”