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Kings take step toward re-establishing defensive mindset in win over Hornets

Kings coach George Karl talks to Andre Miller and Ben McLemore in the closing minutes Wednesday against Charlotte.
Kings coach George Karl talks to Andre Miller and Ben McLemore in the closing minutes Wednesday against Charlotte. The Associated Press

Kings management wants coach George Karl to ignite the team’s offense. Karl wants the defense to spark the offense.

It’s hard to get the offense going if you don’t make stops, something that has troubled the Kings for some time after they began the season with a defensive identity. Once players began focusing on pushing the pace on offense, defense too often became an afterthought.

That’s not the plan.

“We want to create the game off our defense,” Karl said. “We want to create more turnovers and keep the game at a fast level. Because of the pace, you’re going to give up a few more points. When you put an extra 10 possessions per game, your points per possession is going to go up even if you’re a good team.”

Entering Wednesday night’s game against the Charlotte Hornets, the Kings were having perhaps their worst stretch of defense this season. But they held the Hornets to 45.2 percent shooting and won 113-106 to break a four-game losing streak.

During the skid, each opponent shot above 50 percent

Entering Wednesday, the Kings were allowing league highs for the previous 10 games in points per game (109.5), field-goal percentage (47.5), three-point percentage (38.6), points off turnovers (22.2) and fast-break points (17.4). Their 44.2 points per game allowed in the paint ranked ninth-highest over that span.

“I’m concerned about our numbers,” Karl said. “The teams have killed us with the three ball, and we’re not really protecting the paint, either. We kind of get in that no-man’s land when they start making three balls, we get frustrated and we give up everything.”

The Hornets had 50 points in the paint and 23 fast-break points. But the Kings allowed just 15 points off turnovers because they turned the ball over only 13 times, their lowest total in the last six games. The Hornets also made just 33.3 percent (6 for 18) of their three-point attempts.

The Kings’ defensive concepts have not changed much over the course of three coaches this season. Karl said his philosophies are similar to those of Michael Malone, who began the season at the helm. But the execution on defense has fallen off after the Kings were among the league’s better defensive units the first six weeks of the season.

“I think it’s just a mindset,” DeMarcus Cousins said. “It’s just so much – not to make excuses, but it is the truth – there’s just been so much change, and it’s hard to stay on one path. It’s just about everybody getting back on the same page and coming back with that defensive mindset.”

The Kings improved to 4-7 under Karl. The defense was better and so was the late-game execution on offense. After four turnovers in the first six minutes of the fourth quarter, the Kings didn’t commit any more.

Ben McLemore had a season-high 27 points, Rudy Gay scored 26, and Cousins had 20 points and 14 rebounds.

The Kings held the Hornets to 40 percent shooting (10 for 25) in the fourth quarter after allowing them to shoot 56.5 percent (13 for 23) in the third.

“We locked in,” McLemore said. “We wanted to win this game. Coach was telling us, ‘Let’s get one stop at a time,’ and that’s what we did tonight.”

Follow The Bee’s Jason Jones on Twitter @mr_jasonjones and read more about the team at www.sacbee.com/kings.

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