By several measures, the Kings perhaps are the worst defensive team in the NBA.
Entering Tuesday, the Kings ranked next-to-last in points allowed (108.3) and last in opposing field-goal percentage (46.9).
Players shoot 44.7 percent when defended by opponents other than the Kings; teams shoot on average 2.2 percent better when playing the Kings – the most welcoming advantage for shooters in the league. On two-point attempts, Kings opponents are shooting 53.3 percent, also the highest in the league.
The list of bad defensive statistics could continue. But not much more evidence is needed to show the Kings have trouble stopping opponents. And if a team is slumping on offense, it probably will do better against Sacramento.
That was obvious Monday, when the Kings gave up a season-high 38 points in the fourth quarter in a 127-122 overtime loss to the Charlotte Hornets. In the third quarter, the Kings yielded a season-low 14 points and opened a 22-point lead.
The Kings are inconsistent at best on defense and too often allow opposing players to have their way. Those shortcomings have contributed greatly to their 5-10 record.
“We’ve got to stick with the game plan and ... as a team, lock in on the guy that’s going,” guard Ben McLemore said. “And whatever game plan, we have to stick with it and not try to go to different things as the game goes on.”
The Kings’ inability to contain perimeter players has been glaring. Of the Hornets’ 127 points Monday, 82 came from guards.
Some of the problems are schematic. Coach George Karl conceded he could have tried different strategies Monday. And the Kings have struggled when they’ve switched on defense and left bigger players defending the perimeter.
McLemore said the Kings must do a better job of preventing players from getting too comfortable.
“Just everybody being aggressive,” McLemore said. “Not giving everyone freedom to roam with the ball and open lanes. And fill in the plugs with everybody being aggressive.”
Karl might continue to tinker with lineups to improve the defense. On Monday, the third quarter began with a lineup different from the one that started the game. Omri Casspi replaced Willie Cauley-Stein, joining Rajon Rondo, McLemore, DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay.
“I felt like we had a good balance of guys that played good one-on-one defense and rebounded,” Casspi said. “We defended and we switched certain situations, contested shots, got the rebound and got out and ran.”
There is, however, some give and take. The Kings lose a shot-blocking threat when they sit Cauley-Stein. McLemore has the ability to become a good one-on-one defender, but Karl calls on Marco Belinelli in late-game situations for his offense.
Two other players known for energetic defense, Quincy Acy and James Anderson, are outside the regular rotation.
Casspi said one of the biggest differences between the strong third quarter and the finish was “we weren’t switching as aggressive (in the fourth quarter).”
The Kings might not be at full strength to fix the defense Wednesday night against the Milwaukee Bucks to end their five-game trip. Cousins left Monday’s game in the fourth quarter because of a stiff back, and Tuesday night, he was listed as doubtful. Karl describes the All-Star center as the defensive anchor.
McLemore remained hopeful the defense eventually will get on track.
“I think as we come along and get on the same page, I think it’s all going to turn out fine,” he said.