Expectations for the regular season are high.
For a preseason opener? Not so much.
The Kings begin their exhibition schedule Monday at Portland, the first of four games in six nights. After concluding training camp at UC San Diego Sunday, the Kings aren’t expecting anything close to a flawless showing.
What the coaching staff wants to see is a willingness to pass, a commitment to defend and progress in understanding George Karl’s philosophies.
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Karl expects some raggedy moments and his goals for Monday are simple.
“Just good decisions at the offensive end of the court,” Karl said. “Good awareness of what we’re trying to teach … and an honest defensive effort.”
Even if the Kings struggle on offense, it’s likely they will figure out how to score, because they have players skilled at creating offense.
Defense is the bigger concern. It was Karl’s biggest worry before training camp began and remains something he will monitor closely.
“We’re a Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde defensive team,” Karl said. “We can be really good and then we do stupid things. We go to the dark side and throw away possessions, give away points, and we get all wobbly, frustrated, and then we’ve got to fix ourselves.”
Karl took over with 30 games left last season and kept many of the defensive concepts implemented by former coach Michael Malone. He said the Kings had a solid base, but this season Karl is putting his own touch on the defense.
“We’ve got to take our bad and make it solid and I think we’ll be OK,” Karl said. “I think conceptually they have some good concepts, but you’re always tinkering with exactly how you want to play. We felt we came into training camp with a pretty simple foundation.”
Guard Darren Collison said the defense is “slightly” different from last season.
“We’re sticking to a concept we have right now,” Collison said. “We’re not all over the place. Mike Malone, when we were with him our defense was pretty good. We kind of dropped off after (Malone was fired) and we’re trying to get back to that.”
Collison’s role on defense will be important as he’ll be defending both guard spots, and the Kings have been torched by opposing guards too often in recent seasons.
The Kings also added two big men known for their defense in Kosta Koufos and rookie Willie Cauley-Stein and guard Rajon Rondo.
But Karl is still concerned whether the Kings will commit to consistently defending at a high level.
“I think we have a good strategy,” Collison said. “It’s going to take a lot more effort than what we’re doing right now. It’s going to take a building process and we’re only going to get better as time goes on.”
Karl is looking to see the Kings play at a fast pace, while also playing smart to put pressure on the defense.
“I think you try to make the defense make a mistake and get in what we call recovery, and you keep them in recovery,” Karl said. “And I think when a team is in recovery they’re in a weakened state, so you just try to find the shot that we like in that state as many possessions as we can.”
Karl says getting that across to the team isn’t as simple as telling them to do it. He’d like to see the team pass the ball better and take better shots.
He doesn’t want playing fast to become playing reckless.
“Sometimes they don’t get quite how I want to play,” Karl said. “And the shot selection in camp has been 75-80 percent good, but there have been shots that if we take in November it’ll drive me crazy.”
Karl wants great ball movement and spacing. Ideally, he’ll trust the Kings to operate and he won’t be calling a lot of plays.
“I don’t know who’s going to get the shots,” Karl said. “I don’t want to coach the game where I dictate who gets the shots. I want to coach the game how it’s played and the game dictates who gets the shots. You can’t do that for 48 minutes, but if you get close to 40 minutes you’re probably going to win the game.”
No one should expect the Kings to be close to 40 minutes yet.