The easy thing to do with the Kings this season is blame their problems on youth.
Inexperience is a factor for some of the Kings’ issues, but it’s also all too convenient an excuse and one that, if relied on, will be a reason bad habits are formed and losing can become acceptable.
The Kings, young and old, had a part in a 122-95 beating the Los Angeles Clippers handed them Tuesday night at Staples Center.
The Clippers had their way most of the night as Sacramento’s defense allowed season highs in points for a quarter (41 in the second), half (71 in the first) and by reserves (72).
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This isn’t all about being young, either. It’s about playing with a mind to stop the opponent, which has been absent lately.
The grit the Kings showed in winning on back-to-back nights in Philadelphia and Brooklyn has been nonexistent in the last two games as the Clippers had their way, just as the San Antonio Spurs did Saturday.
“I think we’re at the point now where the excuse that we’re young and we need more playing with each other has kind of gone out the window because we’re 30 (plus) games deep and we’re still making the same mistakes we made the first five games,” Kings center Willie Cauley-Stein said.
The younger players struggled defensively when the Kings were outscored by 18 in the second quarter, but the tone for passive defense was set early when rookie forward Jamil Wilson made four 3-pointers and scored 14 points in the opening period.
His previous career high – for a game – was 13 points. He finished with 17.
“We have a pretty veteran first unit now, so it’s not about growing problems,” Kings forward Garrett Temple said. “We’ve got to come out, set the tone early and show guys how to play defense at the beginning of the game and, hopefully, they’ll follow after that.”
The Kings (11-22) watched Milos Teodosic post 10 assists, a season high for the rookie. Montrezl Harrell came off the bench to score a game-high 22 points, also his season high.
Most of the night, it looked easy for the Clippers (14-19).
Now seems like a good time for the Kings to be harder on each other about what goes wrong on nights like Tuesday. It’s not that the Kings lost, it’s that the Clippers were not bothered most of the game and were still throwing lobs in the fourth quarter.
Cauley-Stein reiterated that it’s on the players to make changes.
“As leaders on this team we have to hold each other accountable, and that’s how it starts,” Cauley-Stein said. “That’s how the good teams become good, they start holding each other accountable for the mistakes they make over and over again, and correct without a coach having to correct it. It’s better coming from a teammate.”
That starts with the starting lineup, which has no rookies in it because point guard De’Aaron Fox is out with a thigh injury.
The Kings scored 30 points in the first quarter, but offered no resistance on defense. So while the Kings’ shots stopped falling, the Clippers continued to score at will.
“We have to figure out a way to make a stand and play the right way defensively,” Temple said. “We had a couple young guys out there, but that’s no excuse. You’re in the rotation, you’re supposed to play, find a way to make a stand.”
If the veterans flounder, it’s harder on the younger players to pick up the slack.
Center Kosta Koufos was the only player with more than two years of experience to come off the bench Tuesday. The rest are still figuring out the type of focus and preparation needed to be professionals.
“These guys, a lot of them, are learning on the fly,” Kings coach Dave Joerger said. “You can go through stuff, you can show stuff and we’ve been making a lot of strides. We took a step back (Tuesday) and certainly have a tough opponent (Cleveland on Wednesday).”
Cauley-Stein said fixing the defense falls on the players.
“Take more pride in it,” Cauley-Stein said. “We think a lot offensively right now, not enough defensively. Just taking more pride in not letting the other team do what they want to do.”
That’s a message the Kings, young and old, need to put into practice.