The Kings can expect heightened scrutiny of their defense for the rest of the season.
By all accounts, the Kings’ first two practices after the All-Star break were focused on defense, more so than all season. That’s what happens when a team gives up at least 120 points in three of its four games before the break.
At first glance, Friday’s 116-110 win over the Denver Nuggets at Sleep Train Arena is not emblematic of that work. The Kings entered the day allowing an NBA-high 109.1 points per game.
However, the Kings like their progress and believe if not for their mistakes, the box score would show a much better defensive effort than allowing 110 points would suggest.
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The Kings gave up a season-high 34 points off of 22 turnovers. That kept the game close and took away from what coach George Karl called “one our crisper games, especially defensively.”
“We turned the ball over so much,” Karl said. “It gave them 34 points. I think our five-on-five defense will show it’s pretty (darn) good. Our offensive decisions turned into pretty easy basketball situations.”
It helped that the Kings still had the best player on the court, DeMarcus Cousins, who bulled his way to 37 points, 20 rebounds and four blocks.
And as a testament to the Kings’ defensive effort, they had 12 steals and forced 18 turnovers that led to 23 points.
But the Kings’ defense will continue to be compromised if they are careless with the ball.
Denver cut the Kings’ 16-point lead to five in the fourth quarter, but the Kings had enough from Cousins, Rajon Rondo (24 points, 10 rebounds, nine assists), Rudy Gay (24 points) and Darren Collison (17 points) to win their second consecutive game.
The turnovers, however, have been a problem most of the season.
Karl said he’s unsure of how to better take care of the ball.
“I’m open for suggestions,” he said. “I’ve kind of expressed it to them in a thousand different ways. The pace in how we play is probably going to create a degree more turnovers. I just think we have to trust the easy play, the solid play and not try to make the difficult play all the time.
“Too many times, I think we think we can get through a crack or a gap, and we can’t.”
But Cousins’ dominance covers up a lot of mistakes, even his own. He finished with six turnovers.
He became the first player since Kevin Garnett on Feb. 16, 2003, and 12th since 1984 to have at least 37 points, 20 rebounds and four blocks in a game.
It was also Cousins’ eighth game with at least 20 points and 20 rebounds, most in Sacramento history, passing Chris Webber.
Nuggets coach Michael Malone was back in Sacramento for his first game since being fired by the Kings on Dec. 14, 2014. It was a decision that upset players and fans as Malone became a popular figure in his one-plus seasons.
Cousins said he could see Malone’s personality in the Nuggets.
“They’re a tough, defensive-minded team,” Cousins said. “I think we played very well tonight, and you can see it. They’re a very tough team.”
Malone was also impressed with Cousins.
“I’ll tell you when I was here, I posted Cuz up all the time and they haven’t posted him up a lot,” Malone said. “Tonight they went to him in the post all night long and we had no answer for him.”