The Kings were all about defense a couple of months ago.
But if you’ve watched them play lately, there’s no way you would think that was the case.
Lately, the Kings have been surrendering season highs regularly. Talk of a faster tempo on offense has picked up since Michael Malone was fired as coach two weeks ago. And it looks as if Sacramento’s focus on defense was relieved of its duties, too.
In the six games since Malone’s firing, five Kings opponents shot at least 47 percent, with the woeful Los Angeles Lakers the exception at 38 percent. All six teams scored at least 100 points. Last week, the Kings allowed their season highs in points (twice), assists, field goals and field-goal percentage.
Over that stretch, the Kings didn’t have much trouble scoring, averaging 109.3 points. But they gave up 114.2 points per game in that span, a big reason they went 2-4.
This is not the way the Kings set out to play this season. They intended to be a high-scoring team while playing good defense.
“We have an identity,” center DeMarcus Cousins said. “It’s just us accepting that identity and getting back to it. It’s not a search for one; we know who we are. Offensively, I think we can score with the best of them. Defensively, we can’t be that team that we were (Saturday).”
That’s when the injury-depleted New York Knicks scored 129 points, a season high for a Sacramento opponent, and erased a 15-point deficit before the Kings prevailed in overtime. Former King Cole Aldrich, whose role would be limited if the Knicks were healthy, had a career-high 18 points as New York scored a season high.
Coach Tyrone Corbin said the Kings need to do a better job with the details of defense.
“We don’t complete plays,” Corbin said. “We have 15 seconds of good defense or 20 seconds of good defense and end up not getting a stop or giving them a second opportunity or they slip backdoor because we over-rotate.
“Just small things that are hurting us. I think the initial part of our defense is pretty good when we do get back. There are times when we don’t get back where we’re hanging out ball watching, trying for the offensive boards a few times.”
Cousins said the Kings must regain the focus they had earlier in the season. During that time, opponents talked about the Kings’ physical style.
“Getting back to that mindset, getting back to the right mindset,” Cousins said. “Going in every night knowing we’re a defensive team. That’s the only way, or we’re going to continue to have tough games like (the Knicks game). Against the really, really good teams, we’re probably facing a blowout. We can’t continue to play this way.”
Having Cousins healthy will help. He’s missed 11 games this season because of illness, and his activity on defense is vital. Corbin also has been using different lineups, affecting the defensive rhythm.
Cousins and guard Darren Collison said there were signs the Kings hadn’t forgotten their defensive ways against the Knicks, even as Sacramento has slipped to 12th in field-goal percentage allowed (.447) entering Sunday after being in the top 10 a good portion of the season. The Kings are giving up 103.9 points per game, 26th in the league.
“Defensively, I think we’ll be fine,” Collison said. “We’ve just got to find more consistency in the lineup, and I think we’ll get back to that real soon.”