The NBA is about making adjustments and for the second straight game, the Kings failed to make the necessary modifications on the defensive end.
On Wednesday night, the Chicago Bulls dropped 124 points, including a combined 68 points from the starting backcourt of Zach LaVine and Coby White.
In the Kings’ 144-123 loss to the Raptors on Friday, it was point guard Fred VanVleet that went off for 34 points and his backcourt mate Norman Powell added another 22.
“Offensively, we played a game good enough to win an NBA game,” De’Aaron Fox said. “Defensively, we played a game that you wouldn’t win a single game in this league with.”
Rookie Malachi Flynn and second year guard Terence Davis came off the Raptors bench to add a combined 30 points as the primary reserves in the backcourt. That means that the four guards dropped a total of 86 points for the Raptors.
“It’s not all on our guards, because we’ve been doing a lot of switching,” coach Luke Walton said. “We’ve been taking turns getting scored on.”
Teams are using the Kings’ switching defense against them on plenty of possessions. They are setting screens and choosing which matchup they want. More often than not, it’s not a guard defending a guard, but a guard against one of the Kings’ bigs and it’s not working out in Sacramento’s favor.
“In this league, you’ve got to be able to play one-on-one defense,” Fox said. “Because at the end of the day, everything is going to end up in a post up, pick-and-roll or isolation. That’s NBA basketball. We just weren’t there with our individual defense.”
If you’re Walton, you are in a tough spot. He’s paired down his rotation to nine players on most nights and he’s trying to build chemistry between a specific group of players.
Some of those players lack the experience and in some situations, the defensive acumen to hold their own. It’s an individual issue, but it hurts the team’s ability as a whole.
“It starts with the individual desire to be a good defensive player and then it goes to the desire to be a good defensive team and then it takes time and trust and reps of playing together,” coach Luke Walton said.
At some point it’s about taking personal pride. Allowing the Raptors to score a franchise record 144 points should sting.
“Hell yeah, I want it to bother guys,” rookie Tyrese Haliburton said. “I’m bothered, I’m frustrated. I’m going to go home and re-watch the game and I would hope a lot of other guys do.
With the Kings losing four of their last five games, changes may be on the horizon. Walton isn’t likely to hit a panic button and make changes to his starting group, but he also can’t continue to watch the same types of mistakes repeated.
"At some point, if the group that we're playing isn't getting the stops that we need, then we've got to look to change some things up," Walton said.
One of the options Walton has is to insert rim protecting big man Hassan Whiteside back into the rotation. The 7-foot shot blocker struggles to defend the perimeter, but he would help stop some of the inline drives that are hurting the Kings.
“Maybe we’ll get Hassan some more minutes to kind of help protect the paint,” Walton said. “If we’re not going to keep anyone in front of us, we know Hassan will at least clean everything up in there.”
Over the last five games, Whiteside has played a total of 15 minutes off the bench for Walton’s squad. He’s also received three DNP-CD’s (Did Not Play - Coach’s Decision) over that stretch.
Walton said that it was more of a match up issue that had Whiteside out of the rotation, but he is a player that could come in handy against a Trail Blazers team that starts a physical big in Jusuf Nurkic and then brings an offensive weapon like Enes Kanter off the bench.
Don’t be surprised to see Whiteside play solid minutes in his first regular season game against his former team.
Whether it’s Whiteside or some other combination of players, the Kings have to get better on the defensive end or it’s going to be a long season. They are a fun offensive squad, but it’s hard to run when you are taking the ball out of the basket on more than half of your possessions.
There isn’t a lot of practice time to work out the kinks. Whatever changes the Kings make will have to be on the fly and it doesn’t get any easier Saturday when they take on one of the best guard scoring tandems in the league in Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum.