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Kings notes: Karl says team’s transition defense must improve

Sacramento Kings head coach George Karl salutes Utah Jazz coaches before their game on Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015 at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento.
Sacramento Kings head coach George Karl salutes Utah Jazz coaches before their game on Tuesday, Dec. 8, 2015 at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento. hamezcua@sacbee.com

The Kings talk often about using defense to create offensive opportunities, forcing misses or turnovers by their opponents and using pace to create easy shots in the other direction.

The problem is that plenty of other NBA teams are trying to do the same thing. And right now, coach George Karl said, the Kings are winding up on the wrong end of that equation too much.

Transition defense I think right now is where all coaches are trying to figure it out a little bit better. I’ve never seen this many teams try and push the pace, try to play the game before the defense sets.

Kings coach George Karl

The Kings have one of the league’s most porous defenses, ranking 29th in opponents’ scoring (108.8 points per game) and 28th in opponents’ field-goal shooting (46.6 percent). Asked about the root of the defensive problems before Tuesday night’s game against the Utah Jazz, Karl singled out “ball control in transition.”

“We’ve had nights that our offense didn’t shoot very well, and it creates a lot of offensive opportunities (for opponents),” Karl said.

Misses don’t automatically lead to good shots for the other team. But Karl said the NBA game has evolved in recent years to where more teams are looking to push the pace in transition to generate open shots like layups, three-pointers and free throws.

“Transition defense I think right now is where all coaches are trying to figure it out a little bit better,” Karl said. “I’ve never seen this many teams try and push the pace, try to play the game before the defense sets.

“I don’t know how many teams have ‘play fast early’ in their philosophy, but it’s three times more than when I was in it a couple of years ago – maybe four times.”

Coincidentally, Karl started his pregame news conference shortly after the Golden State Warriors scored 79 points in the first half of their win over the Indiana Pacers. Golden State is arguably the benchmark in today’s NBA for a successful fast-paced offense. But the Warriors also won a championship last season partly because of a defense that held opponents to the league’s lowest field-goal percentage during the regular season.

The Kings are allowing the fifth-most fast-break points per game (15.1) and the third-most points off turnovers (19.1) – two categories often synonymous with easy looks.

“We’ve had good nights there, but we’ve also had inconsistent nights,” Karl said of the Kings’ defense. “Sometimes, bad offense creates bad defense. Sometimes, you just don’t get your defense set.”

I don’t know how many teams have ‘play fast early’ in their philosophy, but it’s three times more than when I was in it a couple of years ago – maybe four times.

Kings coach George Karl

Starting five – Karl used the same starting lineup for a third consecutive game featuring Omri Casspi, who has started since Willie Cauley-Stein dislocated his right index finger Thursday. But Karl said he’s “always looking to tinker” with the lineup, searching for “a first quarter where we’re establishing who we are rather than trying to figure it out.”

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