There are times during a game when Kings coach Michael Malone looks as if he’s a parent plotting the proper discipline for his children after they fail to follow directions again and again.
Malone’s arms are folded as he grits his teeth pacing the sideline, muttering about the latest Kings folly, usually a defensive breakdown.
Malone will stop, ponder what he’s just seen and shake his head in disappointment.
It’s a look that has become commonplace this season.
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Malone was hired because of his defensive expertise, but either he isn’t as astute defensively as his bosses thought or he’s not a miracle worker, because the Kings continue to be one of the worst defensive teams in the NBA.
They have allowed 102.6 points per game, third highest in the NBA, and they have allowed opponents to shoot 46.7 percent, tied for the fourth highest in the league.
Though the Kings have acquired younger, athletic players, they still have been unable to contain guards off the dribble with any consistency and appear to lack the basic knowledge of opposing players’ strengths.
The latest example was in Wednesday’s loss at Atlanta, when accomplished outside shooter Kyle Korver matched his career-high with eight 3-pointers, including seven in a row. Korver has made a 3-pointer in an NBA-record 95 games, so there’s no reason the Kings players shouldn’t have been prepared for him.
Malone joked last week that he shouldn’t be touted for his defensive acumen considering the Kings’ defensive struggles. He also said having new players with little practice time is not an excuse for some of the mistakes.
Now he said he will evaluate his approach to make his defensive philosophies easier to understand.
“I’ve just got to continue to analyze how the message is being delivered,” Malone said. “Because if I say Kyle Korver is a good shooter and he goes out there and goes 8-for-10 from the three-point line, either we’re not paying attention or I’m not doing a good job of communicating to the players.”
But Kings center DeMarcus Cousins said Malone is not to blame.
“We’re well prepared before every game,” Cousins said. “Can’t put that blame on coach, it’s on us.”
Malone, however, said he’s responsible for the Kings’ struggles.
“I’ll always look at myself first, take the hit, try to help these guys out and do a better job as head coach,” Malone said. “So when we play Miami and Orlando in our next two games, we’ll have a clear understanding of who we’re playing, who the personnel is on the floor and what our coverages are.”
Cousins said if the players don’t change their mental approach, it doesn’t matter how much Malone talks defense because he’s not on the court.
“He preaches it over and over – we’re a defensive team,” Cousins said. “Once we get that in our heads, we’ll be a better team. Until then, we’ll continue to struggle and teams will play the way they play against us.”
Even if they are prepared, tonight’s game against Miami figures to be a challenge. The Heat have won the last two NBA championships and LeBron James is one of the most efficient offensive players in the league.
And the Kings know that, right?
“No easy nights in the NBA,” Malone said. “... We’ll see what kind of character we have on this team. To get embarrassed like that in the fourth quarter, then play the reigning NBA champion in their house. We’ll see if we come ready to play. We can’t feel sorry for ourselves.”