SACRAMENTO -- Defense. Defense. Defense.
Sometimes you have no choice but to reuse an opening line from an earlier piece. For the Kings, the focus was -- and will be -- on the defensive side of the ball from now until the point where the team starts to improve.
“It didn’t look very good, did it,” coach Luke Walton said Tuesday when asked about the Kings’ defense last week in India. “That’s why we’re addressing it. It’s something that we as a group have to get much better at. There’s no reason to panic. It’s two and a half days of prep work before we flew out there and Indiana is a very good team.”
Walton is correct when it comes to the Pacers, the Kings' opponents in a pair of preseason games last week. Nate McMillan’s crew finished last season 48-34, earning the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference.
While the Pacers added a few new faces in free agency, they still have a core group of players and coaching staff that has been together for a few years. That is not a luxury that the Kings have at this point.
“It’s just about continuing to put in work and getting reps at our coverages and then the want to from out guys,” Walton said. “Our guys want to become a good defensive team, so it will happen. It just takes time.”
With two new starters and plenty of additions to the rotation, the Kings are trying to jam as much as they can into a short amount of time. A week-long trip to India didn’t help matters.
Walton and his staff now have two weeks to install both an offense and a defense before Sacramento opens the regular season on Oct. 23 against the Suns in Phoenix.
“We’re working on it, we’re working on it every day,” Marvin Bagley said. “We’re getting new calls in, we’re just figuring it out.”
In their two preseason games in Mumbai, the Kings allowed 132 points in an overtime loss and 130 the next night. Sacramento allowed Indiana to shoot 51.6 percent from the field in the first game and 52.1 percent in the second.
“We’re on the fly with it,” Bagley added. “We’ve got to keep going, keep getting better, keep continuing to lock in these practices we have and we’ll be alright.”
The Kings hope to improve on its 39-43 record from last season and qualify for the playoffs for the first time since 2006. But first. they’ll need to find chemistry on defense.
“Both of those games we let them score way too many points, too many fouls, too many straight line drives, layups, open threes,” De’Aaron Fox said. “It’s something we know we need to work on. We know offense isn’t a problem.”
The Kings scored an average of 118.5 points in the two contests, but they struggled just about everywhere defensively.
Both Bagley and Fox pointed to now having game film to work with. It’s one thing to practice against teammates. It’s a completely different feeling to face another NBA team.
“We have a foundation of it now, it’s just getting better at everything, getting all the terminology down, communicating," Fox said. "I think that’s one of our main aspects, we need to communicate. Kind of just taking it personal on defense, being able to keep guys in front of you, that’s the name of the game.
“... You can have all of these concepts and all the team defense, but at the end of the day, you have to have guys that can stand their ground."
The Kings are going to be a work in progress on defense for the foreseeable future. They’re still installing their base defense and haven’t even started building in some of the more crucial sets. With everything new, this process likely will stretch through the preseason and into the first quarter of the season.
The defense has another test coming up Thursday when the Suns roll into Sacramento for the preseason home opener at Golden 1 Center. While Phoenix won just 19 games last season, Devin Booker is a big-time scorer and his team can go on runs in a hurry.
Sacramento will be without Harry Giles (sore left knee) and Tyler Ulis (hip) for a third straight game, and veteran guard Cory Joseph (calf) is unlikely to play as well.