Returning Kings were eager to implement new coach Dave Joerger’s defensive system after spending most of last season complaining about George Karl’s strategy.
But a scheme can do only so much. Players still have to start by taking the initiative not to be beaten one-on-one, and that hasn’t happened enough lately.
The Kings close their five-game trip against two teams that thrive by getting to the rim: the Milwaukee Bucks on Saturday and the Toronto Raptors on Sunday. The Raptors feature All-Star guards Kyle Lowry and DeMar DeRozan.
“We have to do a better job individually taking on the challenge of beating the guy in front of us,” Joerger said. “That has not been happening for us. (The Bucks) don’t settle and keep driving it and driving it. We have to take on the challenge individually.”
As they did last season, the Kings have plenty of size to protect the rim. That asset, however, is compromised when the perimeter defense breaks down.
“Secondly, it’s where is our second line of help,” Joerger said. “Our third line of help is at the rim. There have been too many having-to-help situations by our bigs. We end up giving up something, and one thing leads to the next.”
Lineup changes – Injuries already are forcing Joerger to test his roster’s flexibility.
Rudy Gay (strained rib cartilage) and Anthony Tolliver (knee) did not play Saturday. Omri Casspi replaced Gay in the starting lineup. Gay is second on the Kings in scoring at 22.5 points per game.
Joerger has settled on his rotation most nights, but he is still trying to give players the chance to earn more playing time.
Some decisions will depend on matchups. Joerger said he will use a smaller lineup to match up with certain opponents. But he stayed big Saturday by keeping DeMarcus Cousins and Kosta Koufos in the starting lineup.
“Either we size down or size up a little bit,” Joerger said. “It gives our other guys an opportunity to step up and have a chance. Guys have been working hard and waiting for their opportunities. It’s a good chance for those guys as well.”
Ready for Boogie – Bucks coach Jason Kidd was prepared for the challenge presented by the Kings’ big lineup. He was especially aware of the problems Cousins might cause.
“You look at Cousins, he has the total package,” Kidd said. “Inside and out and can lead the break. We have to pay attention to that. He’s one of the best players in the league. He’s going to put a lot of pressure on us on the defensive end.”