The Kings are struggling. They don't have the worst record (5-8) in the NBA, but they do have a historically bad defense in major need of improvement.
Following the team’s 138-100 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday, frustrations were high. Glenn Robinson III was forceful with his postgame comments, demanding his teammates take accountability for their lackluster play.
Harrison Barnes and De'Aaron Fox took center stage after practice Saturday afternoon, reiterating some of Robinson's frustrations.
“Right now, we’re just playing soft,” Barnes said. “We’re not having enough resistance defensively. We’re allowing teams to play free and easy and until we collectively choose to change that, we’re going to keep getting our heads beat in.”
It’s an honest assessment from one of the Kings' veteran leaders. Barnes is angry, and rightfully so.
The Kings have allowed 122 points or more in seven consecutive games. They have the worst defensive rating in the NBA, and they seem to be regressing as the season goes on.
“Lately when we’re having these big blowouts, it’s compounding of our mistakes that are very controllable, very effort-based, communication-based that we can improve if we focus,” Barnes said.
There is no excuse for poor effort and poor communication, but who is to fault for the mess the Kings are currently in? Like Robinson on Friday night, Fox blamed the players rather than the coaching staff.
“It’s not a scheme, it’s nothing that a coach can do to stop people from getting a 130,” Fox said. “It’s the guys on the court. It’s being able to guard your man.”
Barnes agreed with the assessment.
“It’s definitely on us as players, at the end of the day we’re professionals,” Barnes said. “You wake up, you prepare, at the end of the day, we’re the ones that have to make those plays.”
Coach Luke Walton said the Kings got after it Saturday, hitting the floor for one of the few full-contact practices this season. It came a day before the Kings' next opportunity to try something new.
The New Orelans Pelicans, Sunday's opponents, have also fallen on hard times. New Orleans has a few extremely physical players, but if Sacramento needs to be the aggressor Sunday in order to show growth.
“We’ve just got to buckle down and be physical,” Fox said. “That’s NBA basketball -- be physical, play defense without fouling. If a team is trying to push you off your spot, get to where you want to be.”
This is an early test for Walton’s club. They have the talent to compete, but they aren't going to win many games if they don't play with more force and dedication on defense.
“It’s something that we’re working through,” Barnes said. “It’s been difficult these last seven games, but I’m confident that we’ll get it together.
The Kings are just 13 games into a compacted 72-game schedule. They aren’t the only team in the NBA struggling with consistency early in the season, but they need to turn up the physicality.
Otherwise, it’s going to be a long year.