The Kings spoke of emulating the San Antonio Spurs this season.
Teamwork, multiple passes, sharp execution, defense and unselfishness were the hallmarks of San Antonio’s championship run last season.
The Kings didn’t enter the season talking about winning a championship, but certainly could be more unselfish and execute better on offense and defense.
Coming off their worst stretch of the early season, the Kings faced the Spurs and did enough to end their losing streak at three games with a 94-91 victory Saturday night at Sleep Train Arena.
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It wasn’t the prettiest game for the Kings. They shot just 43.0 percent and missed all 12 of their three-point attempts.
But Sacramento pulled out a win by committing a season-low nine turnovers and limiting the Spurs to 42.5 percent shooting.
The Kings also outscored the Spurs 58-34 in the paint.
Sacramento had lost nine straight games to San Antonio. The Kings’ last win over the Spurs came on Jan. 20, 2012. The Kings had dropped 11 in a row to the Spurs in Sacramento, with their last win coming on Nov. 26, 2007.
“It feels great anytime you can beat the defending champions, protect your homecourt,” Kings coach Michael Malone said. “But more important for me was the defense.”
The defense had gone dormant for most of the last three games after the Kings had won five consecutive games to open the season 5-1.
“If we defend like we did earlier in the year, I really feel we can beat anybody in the NBA,” Malone said. “So to get back to that defensive identity is huge for us, and I think our players understand we need to defend like that every night to have a chance to be a competitive team in the Western Conference.”
DeMarcus Cousins played only nine minutes in the first half after picking up two fouls in the first quarter but carried the Kings by scoring 21 of his game-high 25 points in the second half.
Cousins also had a game-high 10 rebounds and only one turnover.
“I don’t know if there’s a more competitive player in the NBA,” Malone said. “We all know how skilled he is, and he hates to lose.”
Darren Collison had 19 points and five assists, and Rudy Gay had 18 points and six assists to lead Sacramento (6-4).
Manu Ginobili led the Spurs (5-4) with 21 points but missed a three-point attempt that would have tied the score with one second to play.
“We hung in there; we ran out of juice a little bit,” said Spurs coach Gregg Popovich. “Couple of guys were probably a little bit tired at the end of the (four-game) road trip, but everybody goes through that. Sac will have to do the same thing; we all do it. We had a good chance to win the thing; we just didn’t.”
The Kings found their defensive identity in the first half by holding the Spurs to 38 points. That’s the lowest total for an opponent this season. San Antonio shot 38.5 percent in the first half and had nine turnovers.
It was the kind of defensive effort that had been lacking over the last week, with the Kings surrendering 90-plus points over the final three quarters of their last two games.
All three losses during Sacramento’s skid were winnable games, and the defeats stung.
The Kings believed they had no business losing to a depleted Oklahoma City team last Sunday, but they were outplayed early and couldn’t complete a second-half comeback.
Sacramento followed that by blowing leads of at least 24 points in losses at Dallas and Memphis.
Follow The Bee’s Jason Jones on Twitter @mr_jasonjones and read more about the team at www.sacbee.com/kings.