For a moment, the Kings appeared to shake off the sorrowful disposition in their play. They’d found some energy and tied the score 55-55 with 7:43 left in third quarter.
So what happened?
“We didn’t have enough energy on defense to figure out how to win the game,” said Kings coach George Karl. “Defensively, we just fell apart.”
The Kings gave up 63 points the rest of the way and were run off the court by the Phoenix Suns 118-97 Wednesday night at Talking Stick Resort Arena.
The Kings are only five games into the season, but their defense is a major issue. They are 1-4, with their only win coming against the Los Angeles Lakers, who remain winless.
The Kings have lost three in a row, and in three of their four losses the opponent has shot better than 50 percent. The Suns torched the Kings by shooting 54.2 percent from the field and 60.9 percent from three-point range.
When Eric Bledsoe (19 points, eight assists) wasn’t blowing up the Kings’ defense, it was Brandon Knight (17 points, seven assists) or backup center Alex Len (16 points, seven rebounds) having it easy most of the night.
“I don’t think we have very good control of the ball,” Karl said. “I think our pick-and-roll defense needs to maybe be more aggressive.”
The Kings had hope with the score tied, even though their turnovers had helped give Phoenix a leg up. But so far the Kings have only shown to be capable in spurts defensively.
Karl said “we lost our concentration” after the score was tied. That’s when Phoenix went on a 16-2 run.
“I think we have lazy defensive possessions,” Karl said. “We’ve got to be more serious about that’s where the game starts, that’s where the game is won. We try to outshoot teams way too often.”
The Kings are still without leading scorer DeMarcus Cousins, who missed his second consecutive game because of a strained right Achilles’ tendon. But the Kings are still capable of showing more fight defensively. The trend is alarming.
“You have to watch film and see what we can learn from in certain areas,” said point guard Rajon Rondo. “Maybe it’s pick and roll, maybe it’s individual defense one on one. It’s pretty much everything right now.”
Karl said he will need to review film of Wednesday’s game to determine if some of the Kings’ defensive issues are physical or a matter of concepts and lack of execution.
It’s been quite the change from the preseason, when Karl praised the progress the team was making on defense. Before the season, the Kings were worried about their transition defense. But in four losses they’ve also put opponents on the free-throw line by fouling too much, particularly against the Los Angeles Clippers.
Memphis piled up 50 points in the paint Tuesday. Wednesday, the Suns (3-2) used the three-point shot (14 of 23) and 28 points off 19 Sacramento turnovers to blow the game open.
“We just have to get back to our principles,” said forward Rudy Gay. “We’re not really following those right now. Play team defense. We’re worried a little too much about our man.”
Gay, like Karl, said there needs to be further studying of where the breakdowns are coming on defense.
“I can say those things, but it really has to go back to the drawing board and watching film to see what’s going on,” Gay said.
There’s urgency to improve while the season is young. As some players have already noted, the Kings do not want to bury themselves in the Western Conference in November by piling up losses.
“We have to get it right; we don’t have a choice,” Rondo said. “We have to continue to fight and we have to trust one another. We have to trust the system and get some wins.”