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Kings prepare for regular season after exhibition finale

DeMarcus Cousins shoots under pressure from New Orleans’ Anthony Davis during the Kings final NBA preseason game, Saturday, Oct. 17, 2015, in Lexington, Ky. The Kings won 107-98, ending the preseason with a 5-1 record.
DeMarcus Cousins shoots under pressure from New Orleans’ Anthony Davis during the Kings final NBA preseason game, Saturday, Oct. 17, 2015, in Lexington, Ky. The Kings won 107-98, ending the preseason with a 5-1 record. The Associated Press

The Kings’ 5-1 preseason record looks nice, but no one is putting much stock in that.

The Kings concluded the preseason by defeating the New Orleans Pelicans on Saturday at Rupp Arena in Lexington, Ky., and have more than a week to prepare for their season opener Oct. 28 against the Los Angeles Clippers at Sleep Train Arena.

There were positives from exhibition play. The second unit, led by point guard Darren Collison, appears to be markedly better than the Kings’ bench of recent seasons.

Rajon Rondo’s comfort level directing the first unit appeared to grow steadily. The defense also showed signs of improvement, thanks partly to the addition of big men Kosta Koufos, a veteran, and Willie Cauley-Stein, a rookie.

Kings coach George Karl now will begin adding to the vanilla sets the Kings used in the preseason as they prepare to host the Clippers, who have championship aspirations.

“We have two or three things defensively, two or three things offensively (to work on),” Karl said. “We don’t have a lot of offense in.”

Adding more offense means finding more ways to get DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay more looks.

We have two or three things defensively, two or three things offensively (to work on),” Karl said. “We don’t have a lot of offense in.

Kings coach George Karl

Cousins and Gay showed their willingness to stretch the floor. After attempting 15 three-pointers in the last two seasons, Cousins hoisted up 12 shots from beyond the arc in five preseason games, making one.

Gay put up 25 three-point attempts in five exhibition contests, connecting on 10.

Karl, however, does not plan to keep either of his top scorers camped out on the perimeter.

“I have a lot of post-up game, (and) I think Rudy and Cuz deserve better offenses,” Karl said.

Perhaps the most surprising part of the offense is Collison. Praised by Karl as the star of training camp almost daily, Collison averaged 14.2 points on 52.3-percent shooting and 4.6 assists.

Karl has has been impressed with Collison’s playmaking.

14.2 Point guard Darren Collison’s preseason scoring average

“My belief with point guards is they’ve got to get smarter and make the team stronger,” Karl said. “And when I say ‘stronger,’ it’s usually not physical. It’s more mental, confidence-wise – who you play with you get more of a connection with.”

Collison has been steady, and though Rondo was signed to to start at point guard, Collison has not let that affect his play. Karl believes he can get even more out of Collison as a leader.

“That’s an area where Darren has probably been OK in his career, but I don’t know if he’s been pushed as hard as I’m going to push him to be a leader of the second unit, to be a leader of the bench,” Karl said. “I know he probably doesn’t like that every day, but my gut says he’s going to spend a lot of minutes on the court.”

Though Karl likes how the defense has looked, he also realizes there’s work to do. Like the Kings, other teams have not shown their full playbooks and concepts yet.

“Right now, defensively our guys have been a good defensive team in a lot of the games,” Karl said. “That’s going to be a littler harder.”

Karl is glad to have time to fine-tune for the Clippers. The players don’t mind, either.

“Take what you learned through preseason and build off it,” Cauley-Stein said. “Make your game stronger, get stronger in the weight room, get in better condition, all the little things.”

Because by the time the Clippers arrive in Sacramento, a good preseason record won’t matter much.

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

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