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Labissiere still learning to be physical while chasing stretch forwards on perimeter

Skal Labissiere, left, and the Kings couldn’t hold off Davis Bertans and the San Antonio Spurs on Monday at Golden 1 Center.
Skal Labissiere, left, and the Kings couldn’t hold off Davis Bertans and the San Antonio Spurs on Monday at Golden 1 Center. hamezcua@sacbee.com

The challenge for Skal Labissiere is to be physical in the paint, but also be ready to run the floor.

Playing power forward today’s NBA isn’t all about power. It requires the ability to chase big men who play away from the rim and shoot 3-pointers.

That skill is needed to deal with the likes of San Antonio Spurs reserve forward Davis Bertans, who torched the Kings for a career-high 28 points, including six 3-pointers, in a 107-100 victory Monday night at Golden 1 Center.

One of the reasons Labissiere’s playing time hasn’t been consistent this season is because he’s learning to deal with stretch power forwards.

The second-year forward had six points and eight rebounds in 21 minutes off the bench as his education in perimeter defense continued.

“It’s tough because I’m learning how to be physical while chasing the stretch fours like Bertans tonight,” Labissiere said “He shot the ball really well tonight, and I’m learning how to guard that, guys who can put it on the floor. It’s going to take a little while for me, but it’s there.”

Monday’s game came after Kings coach Dave Joerger praised Labissiere’s effort in Saturday’s victory over Denver, calling his play in the third quarter “his best basketball of the season.”

Joerger said Labissiere played with bounce and was “active” against the Nuggets. He showed similar activity against the Spurs.

Joerger remains aware Labissiere is not a polished perimeter defender and protected him against the Nuggets.

“He didn’t have to play one minute against (Nuggets stretch forward) Trey Lyles and that was intentional,” Joerger said. “He’s getting better and better and as his game continues to (grow) work to figure out if he can play some of those guys who are out above the 3-point line offensively.”

As the season progresses, the Kings expect Labissiere will become more comfortable defensively away from the rim. Labissiere said the transition is not easy, but it’s one he’s working on daily.

If Labissiere can continue to improve in that area, it would give the Kings much-needed size to help defend the 3-point line, one of Sacramento’s problem areas.

“I’m adjusting pretty well, I have to,” Labissiere. “That’s the way the game is going and guys like that ... I’m going to have to guard. They move a lot, they play like guards and I’m going to have to defensively focus a little bit more, learning how to move my feet without using my hands and that’s what I’m going to keep working on.”

Some of that comes with experience.

Though he’s in his second NBA season, Labissiere has only played in 67 career games. But the big man from Haiti said he’s played enough to know he’s doing less thinking on the court, which he credits to extra work away from the floor.

“My focus, I took it to a higher level,” Labissiere said. “I’ve been watching a lot of tape. Things are slowing down for me.”

Kings forward Zach Randolph knew Labissiere when he was in high school in Memphis. He’s seen a boost in Labissiere’s play lately.

“I see it, it’s working,” Randolph said. “It’s developmental and he’s just got to keep working. He’s getting a chance to play. These young guys just need to play more and get to learn more.”

He’ll also need to figure out how to deal with players like Bertans and remain a force around the rim, because it won’t be the last time Labissiere encounters a stretch four. His playing time depends on it.

Jason Jones: @mr_jasonjones, read more about the team at sacbee.com/kings.

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