Two games into his tenure as the Kings’ coach, George Karl is continuing a battle his predecessors fought: how to get the Kings to play like a team consistently.
The Kings’ lack of passing has been detrimental all season and was again in a 126-99 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Saturday night at Staples Center.
Kings coaches have used their own terms for the players’ penchant for discarding team play and taking tough shots. “Selfish” and “hero ball” are a couple.
Karl introduced another term Saturday.
“Sometimes there’s shots out there that I call thirsty, and the players out there are thirsty,” Karl said. “Thirsty for a score, thirsty for a shot.”
The Kings had only 18 assists and shot only 34.1 percent.
“Good teams don’t care about who scores,” Karl said. “Good teams just care about scoring; they don’t care who does it.
“I feel sometimes out there guys care about who is scoring. We’ve got to let that go and build some habits that unify the team rather than build habits that disconnect the team.”
Not surprisingly, the Kings are last in the NBA in assists per game. They have shown they can play unselfishly in spurts under three coaches this season, but they have more frequently played as they did against the Clippers.
“There’s still a lot of bad habits with the way we used to play,” center DeMarcus Cousins said. “We’ve just got to continue to move forward and find a way to shake those bad habits and run the system the correct way.”
Karl said after two games he has an idea of what he’ll work on in practice. The Kings do not play again until Wednesday when they host Memphis.
“I’ll just say habits of how to get a good shot,” Karl said. “Habits of understanding the pace of the game ... habits of passing the ball to the open man, making the extra effort to get a great shot rather than just an OK shot.”
A night after finishing with 26 assists against Boston, their highest total in two months, the Kings again regressed. The ball didn’t move, and players didn’t move with the same vigor, which has been a problem all season.
Even without All-Star Blake Griffin, the Clippers are far more formidable than the Celtics, whom the Kings beat, so execution and sharing the ball were more important Saturday. The Kings did neither and trailed by 37 points.
Another nondescript player also posted a career high. Austin Rivers joined the likes of Justin Holiday, Cole Aldrich, Festus Ezeli and Isaiah Canaan as players who have had career nights against the Kings. Rivers scored a career-high 28 points off the bench.
“Things we did the previous night we didn’t come out and do tonight,” Cousins said. “We won the (Boston) game by sharing the ball, running and playing defense. We did the complete opposite (Saturday).”
When the Clippers made their run in the second quarter, the Kings had no response and were outscored 42-18.
Playing a back-to-back was a factor, Cousins said. Karl cited another longtime issue for the Kings: losing composure when things go bad.
“Maybe we ran out of gas, but mentally, we got frustrated,” Karl said. “It’s a personality we’ve got to fight through.” How long it will take to fix is anyone’s guess.
“I can’t really give you a timetable,” Cousins said. “All we can do is try to improve each game. We did well the first game, even though we made a lot of mistakes. We had a lot of those same mistakes against a better team, and it showed.”