Rajon Rondo’s command of the Kings’ offense is obvious. He leads the NBA in assists and enjoys piling them up.
But for all that’s gone right on offense for Sacramento, its defense has been poor most nights. So in his return to Dallas, where he played 46 games last season and is not fondly remembered, Rondo helped the Kings find their defensive direction in a 104-101 victory over the Mavericks on Thursday night at American Airlines Center.
The win ended a four-game losing streak and a 22-game regular-season skid in Dallas. The last time the Kings won here in the regular season was Feb. 27, 2003, 126-124 in overtime.
The 101 points allowed were the fewest by the Kings since they gave up 97 points in a win over Indiana on Jan. 23.
Rondo had 18 points, 12 assists, five rebounds and three steals and was active defensively all over the court, even covering Dallas’ 7-foot star, Dirk Nowitzki, and giving up nearly a foot in height.
Rondo said he didn’t use any inside knowledge to help the Kings cover the Mavs.
“I played here, I remember a couple of the plays, but (Dallas coach) Rick (Carlisle) has too many plays to remember,” Rondo said. “He does a good job with the game plan from one game to the next. I was able to be on the back line of the defense and tell my guys where to be, but I try to do that every night.”
Kings coach George Karl said the win “might be our most complete defensive game of the year.”
Sacramento wasn’t torched by three-pointers for a change, as the Mavs made just 7 of 29 attempts (24.1 percent). The Kings did not foul excessively, either, as Dallas attempted only six free throws.
The score was close late only because the Kings missed 10 of 20 free throws in the fourth quarter.
Also, Thursday was a rare night when the Kings avoided giving up big offensive numbers to an opposing point guard.
“I thought we did a much better job on Deron Williams,” Karl said. “He was the guy that beat us the last time we played here. I thought we had some focus on what we wanted to take away there. It’s hard for me because they play so many little guys I don’t know who was covering who half the time and we were switching a lot. (Rondo’s) command of knowing when to switch, he’s good there. I think the scheme was helpful.”
Williams scored 15 points on 6-of-17 shooting.
The Kings also played well defensively in the second half of their loss at Memphis a night earlier.
“I think it came over from (Wednesday) night,” Rondo said. “We played pretty good defense in the second half against Memphis, just didn’t come out with the win. Tonight, we (faced) a very good offensive team that runs a lot of sets and a lot of people can get going any given night, and we had to get stops.”
Kings center DeMarcus Cousins said Rondo’s defensive role was just as important as his running the offense Thursday. Cousins noted that Rondo didn’t back down against Nowitzki.
“He’s our floor general,” Cousins said. “His job all night is to manage the whole team; he’s the coach on the floor. It’s a tough assignment.”
Cousins led Sacramento (25-35) with 22 points, 13 rebounds, five assists and two blocks. Guard Marco Belinelli had his second consecutive strong showing off the bench with 16 points. Guard Darren Collison had 14 points in another strong outing as a reserve.
Forward Chandler Parsons led Dallas (33-29) with 28 points. Nowitzki had 16.
Now the Kings must show they can put together consecutive games of solid defense, something they haven’t done since their five-game winning streak in January.
“It’s been a problem for us all season,” Cousins said. “I’d probably say this is our best defensive game all season. It’s all about remaining consistent with what’s winning games for us, and that’s defense.”