Kings coach George Karl said during the preseason that his starting lineup might fluctuate during the season. So far, it’s changing almost daily.
Karl used his fifth starting lineup in six games Friday night against the Houston Rockets, giving forward Marco Belinelli his first start of the season alongside guards Rajon Rondo and James Anderson, forward Rudy Gay and center Kosta Koufos.
Gay and Rondo are the only players who have started all six games for the Kings. Center DeMarcus Cousins missed his third game with a right Achilles’ strain and is expected to sit out Saturday night against the Golden State Warriors.
Karl, who used 21 starting lineups last season, said he settled on Friday’s lineup “just trying to get mainly more balance of playmakers and shooters.”
“The second unit’s been good, but I think the first unit needs a little lift without Cousins’ 25 points a game,” Karl said. “I think you’ve got to kind of roll the dice a little bit.”
Anderson provided a lift in his first start of the season Wednesday at Phoenix, scoring 15 points in a season-high 25 minutes, and started again Friday night with Karl preferring him as the Kings’ first defender on Rockets leading scorer James Harden.
Harden led the Rockets with 43 points in Houston’s 116-110 victory Friday night.
Karl said he doesn’t expect Anderson to shoot 15 times a game, as he did against Phoenix, but that Anderson is “kind of a low-maintenance guy – he knows how to get shots without calling plays for him.”
Starts for Anderson, who had two points in 18 minutes Friday, have come at the expense of Ben McLemore, who has struggled but has been more effective off the bench. McLemore scored nine points on 4-of-6 shooting in 14 minutes off the bench Wednesday night and followed that with a season-high 11 points on 3-of-8 shooting in 23 minutes Friday.
“It’s just trying to rotate the team,” Karl said of the lineup changes. “I thought Ben played pretty well (Wednesday), with some confidence. To me, he looked more relaxed. He was stressing himself a little bit when he was playing with the first unit.”
Rookie center Willie Cauley-Stein started the first two games Cousins missed, but Karl said the Kings prepared for Friday’s game intending to match Koufos against Rockets center Dwight Howard. After Houston announced Friday morning that Howard would sit out to rest, the Kings opted to stay with the lineup they had prepared.
Though Belinelli was making his first start, the veteran entered Friday’s game averaging the fourth-most minutes per game on the Kings and leading the team in three-pointers made ( nine) and attempted (25). He scored five points on 2-of-10 shooting Friday.
Bad paint job – Karl also said during the preseason that the Kings’ bigs were doing a good job defending around the basket. Friday, though, he said that has been one of the team’s biggest defensive issues this season. The Kings entered Friday allowing 42.8 points per game in the paint and 112.0 per game overall.
“We’re not making people miss around the basket,” Karl said. “Some of that is we’re breaking down and giving easy baskets. There’s a lot of things good about our team, but defensively right now that’s probably our biggest worry.”
Part of that could be the absence of Cousins, who told Yahoo! Sports before Friday’s game he hopes to return Monday against the Spurs.
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