The Kings opened the season with eight of their first 11 games at Sleep Train Arena, but that’s no guarantee of success, as they quickly found out.
They lost five of those eight games, and they’re now on a three-game trip. After beating the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday for their first road win, they hope to extend that success this weekend in Los Angeles, Saturday against the Clippers and Sunday against the Lakers. Then they’re back home for six of their next seven games.
Kings coach Michael Malone said he didn’t look at the schedule and assume things would be smooth for the team to start the season.
“Sometimes, there’s more pressure on guys at home,” Malone said. “When you first get the schedule on paper, it’s great, eight of your first 10 games are at home. But for me, I look at how many of those are playoff teams, how many of those are tough games?”
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Malone was more concerned about how the players were adjusting to him in his first season and how they were adapting to their new roles.
Malone is using his third starting lineup, and the only players who have started all 11 games are center DeMarcus Cousins and point guard Greivis Vasquez. The lineup changes happened during a five-game homestead in which the Kings went 2-3, including beating the Suns on Tuesday before completing a back-to-back sweep in Phoenix on Wednesday.
Malone hopes being on the road will help the players focus on building chemistry without the distraction of family and friends. That’s why the Kings began training camp with a week in Santa Barbara instead of using their practice facility adjacent to Sleep Train Arena.
“When you have a five-game homestand, on one hand it’s great, but when you’re new, sometimes it’s good to get on the road, build team, build camaraderie and just kind of get away in the bunker mentality – us against them, all we have is us on the road,” Malone said. “I think it’s good.”
One change that’s worked for the coach is adding forward Luc Mbah a Moute to the starting lineup.
Malone praised Mbah a Moute’s defense in Wednesday’s victory. After Suns guard Gerald Green scored 20 points in the first half, Mbah a Moute helped hold Green to three points in the second half.
It was an assignment Mbah a Moute was happy to accept.
“When (Malone) said that in the second half, I was actually happy,” Mbah a Moute said, “because I knew he was kind of having his way in the first half.”
It’s a role the Kings envisioned for Mbah a Moute when they acquired him from Milwaukee in July. It took Mbah a Moute time to work his way into the rotation after sitting out much of the preseason because of a sore right knee.
Mbah a Moute would like to be the Kings’ go-to man when they are facing a talented perimeter scorer.
“That’s the goal,” he said. “Whether it’s before the game or during the game and someone gets hot, (I) try to tell (Malone), ‘Let me go and get him and slow him down a bit.’”
That’s the kind of attitude Malone hopes will become contagious when the Kings are together on the road.