Kings guard Buddy Hield stated the obvious when asked what the Kings needed to do on nights like Thursday, when they aren’t making shots at a high rate.
“Guard,” Hield said. “That’s how you stop people, you guard them and makes it tough on them. And no matter if you make or miss shots the game will come to you and you’ll find a way to grind it out.”
That’s certainly the right answer, but as the Kings’ 119-96 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves at Target Center showed, saying that and actually defending with some ferocity are two different things.
The Kings’ two best perimeter defenders are 6-foot-3 George Hill and 6-foot-6 Garrett Temple, who start most games smaller than their counterparts. When Hield enters, he often has to go against a guard who is taller, too.
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Minnesota exploited their size advantage on the wing with 6-foot-8 Andrew Wiggins (22 points) and 6-foot-8 Jimmy Butler (21 points, nine assists, seven rebounds). Throw in center Karl-Anthony Towns (30 points, 14 rebounds, five assists, five blocks) and it was an easy night for the Timberwolves.
“We didn’t play with enough force,” Kings coach Dave Joerger said. “They did pretty much anything they wanted to to us, so it was very frustrating for us.”
It’s a problem the Kings have had all season that will persist, barring a trade for bigger, more dynamic wing players.
That means the Kings have to be a scrappy bunch on defense and play with the “force” Joerger wants to see.
So the Kings have to be physical, get deflections and steals, and try to create easy scoring chances to deal with the being too small on most nights. The Kings had just four steals and nine points off turnovers.
The lack of size on the perimeter has been something Joerger has mentioned during the season. It’s a reason the reason the Kings’ defense has been compromised at times. It’s also why Joerger liked having JaKarr Sampson on the roster.
At 6-foot-9 and 207 pounds, the forward has enough size and experience to put up a fight against bigger wing players, as he did against Cleveland Cavaliers star LeBron James. But Sampson is a two-way player and limited to 45 days with Sacramento while spending the rest of the season in the G League.
That leaves the Kings to figure out to keep teams like Minnesota (17-12) from having its way. The Timberwolves shot 56.1 percent for the game.
“We’ve got to make them work a little bit harder and they’ve got to see a little bit more,” Joerger said. “Those three guys had 30, 21, and 22 and smiled and it was pretty easy for them. And that’s no discredit to Garrett trying to play one of those two guys, or George Hill trying to play one of those two guys.”
Even at their best, the Kings do not have much margin for error, so the mismatches along with their own mistakes made for a rout by the Timberwolves.
The Kings (9-19) shot just 41.4 percent and gave up 18 points off 14 turnovers. Joerger was not happy with the turnovers, which helped Minnesota get into a rhythm early.
“It was a lack of focus,” Joerger said. “Guys just not catching the pass, not passing the ball, not dribbling the basketball. The ones that are out in front of God and everybody just make you scratch your head a little bit.”
The Kings played most of the game without guard De’Aaron Fox, who left the game in the first quarter with a left quadriceps contusion. Hill scored 16 points and forward Zach Randolph had 15 points and nine rebounds for the Kings.
But they needed a lot more.
“They have a really tough team,” center Willie Cauley-Stein said. “They play eight guys. They are always going to be in a rhythm, they always have something going on, because they only play eight guys. So you really have to be locked in on them. You have to eliminate all of the mistakes. If you want to beat them, you can’t make more mistakes than them.”