The Charlotte Hornets looked confident, but lately that’s been the case for most teams when facing the Kings.
The Hornets’ offense set multiple season highs in their 131-111 victory Tuesday night at Golden 1 Center, becoming the latest team to take advantage of an open invitation from the Kings’ defense. Charlotte set season highs in points and shooting accuracy (57.3 percent) and matched a season best with 15 made 3-pointers.
“Teams are definitely confident they can come in and shoot well,” said Kings coach Dave Joerger.
The Hornets’ 72 points in the first half were the most they’d scored in a half this season, and the most the Kings have allowed in a half. The 131 points are the most the Kings have allowed this season.
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The Kings (12-25) have lost three in a row and five of their last six. Sacramento shot better than 50 percent for the sixth time this season, and Joerger said the offensive pace was improved. But those positives were overshadowed by one of their worst defensive performances.
“When you play against us, it’s kind of like pick whatever you want to do,” said Kings guard Garrett Temple. “We just aren’t guarding in the pick-and-roll, whether it’s one-on-one, people get into the paint whenever they want to. We’ve got to defend. Simple as that.”
Some of their defensive weaknesses can be attributed to the roster. The Kings lack size on the perimeter, which was exploited again as Nicolas Batum scored a team-high 21 points for the Hornets (14-23).
But they also have communication breakdowns that lead to easy scores. In the first quarter, Kemba Walker drove at Skal Labissiere in transition, which led to Labissiere essentially setting a screen on De’Aaron Fox and led to an easy layup.
Eight Hornets scored in double figures, including Johnny O’Bryant III, who scored a career-high 16 points off the bench. The third-year forward had never made more than five shots in a game, but shot 7 of 9 against Sacramento.
It’s been too easy for too many opponents recently.
“It feels terrible,” Temple said. “It has me speechless; there’s nothing to say. We have to guard. We have to man up and play defense, defend guys. ... I don’t care how young we are, we have to defend.”
Joerger has said teams do not “feel” the Kings defensively, meaning the Kings aren’t playing with enough force to disrupt their opponents. Some nights, that can be attributed to their lack of size and strength compared to the opposition.
“Guys are playing as hard as they can,” Joerger said. “They’re giving what they’ve got as physically as they can.”
Temple said the defensive concepts remain the same regardless of who is in the lineup, so changing personnel groups shouldn’t have a drastic effect on the team’s ability to defend. Offensively, the Kings’ shots might come in different spots with different groups, but defense should be a constant.
“A lot of it is effort and we’re not putting forth the effort and we’re not in the right coverages,” Temple said “… We can control that.”
Zach Randolph led the Kings with 24 points and also had 10 rebounds. Labissiere had 17 points and a career-high 15 rebounds.
Fox finished with 17 points and four assists in his return to the lineup. He’d missed the previous six games with a partially torn right thigh muscle. Though he liked what he saw on offense, Fox said the defense was troubling.
“We’ve got to come out early and just be able to cut some of that out,” Fox said. “Make them feel us and just try to be physical defensively.”
Until the Kings do that, their results won’t change.
“You don’t guard in the NBA, you’re going to lose every game,” Temple said. “I don’t care who you play and we haven’t defended at all. Point blank.”