Team defense a focus for Kings
10/14/2013 12:00 AM
10/14/2013 1:48 PM
There are times in a basketball game a team needs a player to make something good happen in a one-on-one situation.
The Kings turned their offense into that kind of situation too much in recent seasons with too many possessions ending with one player challenging a defense with minimal ball movement and teammates watching.
That kind of play led to losses and had players describing their play as selfish.
So with a new coaching staff, is there progress in playing team basketball?
"A little bit," guard Isaiah Thomas said. "Not to hype it too much, but we are trying to play together. Coach (Michael Malone) is really trying to practice it, and we're trying to play together. We know we're only going to go as far as everybody takes us, and we need each other."
Breaking the Kings' habit for individual play on both ends of the floor will be a key factor in whether the team begins to show improvement from the struggles of recent seasons.
The Kings hope to continue to show progress tonight when they host the Los Angeles Clippers in their preseason home opener.
Through two games, the Kings have shared the ball. They piled up 28 assists against the Los Angeles Lakers on Thursday.
Malone, however, preaches defense more than offense. He said selfish play isn't limited to ball-hogging on offense. The Kings ranked 25th in the NBA in assists last season.
"The selfish mindset was just as prevalent on the defensive end," Malone said. "If a guy got beat, nobody was there to help him. And on the rare occasion there was somebody there to help him, there was nobody helping the helper."
That led to considerable finger-pointing on the court and the Kings allowing a league-high 105.1 points per game last season.
Much like trying to win a game on offense with one player won't get the Kings far, depending on a group that lacks a collection of lockdown individual defenders to shut down opponents without help won't benefit Sacramento.
"For us, our whole mentality is five guys defending as one," Malone said. "And you have to be unselfish to be a very good defensive team because that means you have five guys protecting and covering for each other at all times."
Malone also acknowledges the problems on offense can directly influence the effort on defense.
Malone believes ball movement is contagious and the overall effort picks up with it.
"When the ball moves and everybody gets a chance to touch it, they defend a little bit better on the other end," Malone said. "When somebody gets looked off three or four possessions, there's one-on-one and there's no ball movement, now there's bad shots, contested shots, and you have nobody helping out on defense."
One key to improving the ball movement was acquiring guard Greivis Vasquez from New Orleans in a trade for Tyreke Evans.
Vasquez, who was third in the NBA in assists per game last season, missed the first two preseason games as the Kings brought him back slowly from offseason ankle surgery.
Vasquez is targeted to play limited minutes tonight.
Even without Vasquez, the Kings are seeing incremental steps toward unselfish play.
"I think you saw little signs of that last game," forward John Salmons said. "We recognized if the ball got stagnant and we were going one-on-one. We recognized it right away, and after a couple possessions, we got right back to moving the ball. That was a good sign."
THREE THINGS TO WATCH
In the Kings' game tonight against the Clippers:
1. Spaced out: The Kings are trying to keep players spread out around the floor on offense. Proper spacing allows for better passing lanes.
2. Paint patrol: DeMarcus Cousins grabbed 12 rebounds in Thursday's preseason win over the Los Angeles Lakers. Rebounds are always a good sign of how engaged Cousins is during a game.
3. Next in line: Injuries have allowed Travis Outlaw a chance to impress the coaching staff as a starter. Coach Michael Malone plans to try a new starting lineup tonight.
Follow The Bee's Jason Jones on Twitter @mr_jasonjones and read more about the team at www.sacbee.com/kings.
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