In yesterday’s defeat to the Oklahoma City Thunder, Ben McLemore and Derrick Williams drew the two toughest defensive assignments of the night. Head coach Michael Malone tasked two of his youngest, but most athletic players with the duties of guarding Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant.
Against two perennial All-Stars, their defensive efforts did not disappoint. Durant scored 27 points, but took 21 shots to do so. Williams, whose ability to defend the wing still remains a major question, fared well against the 25-year-old superstar, using his athleticism to stay in front of Durant during his time on the floor.
Westbrook meanwhile scored 15 points, but shot just 7-of-19 from the field and committed a game-high seven turnovers. Kings coach Michael Malone was pleased overall with the way McLemore accepted the responsibility of guarding the three-time All-Star.
“I thought he met the challenge head on,” Malone said of McLemore’s defensive performance against Westbrook. “And Russell’s a great player and I thought Ben did a terrific job in trying to contain him, using his own athleticism to try a keep great athlete in front him.”
McLemore didn’t have much time to ready himself for Westbrook. Not until shoot-around yesterday did McLemore know for sure who would be his defensive assignment, but he spent Monday watching film on Westbrook to prepare.
The 20-year-old guard, who was named Western Conference Rookie of the Month yesterday, is still raw defensively. But as he learns his way around the league, he’s embracing opportunities like last night where he gets to guard some of the NBA’s best scorers.
“I’m looking forward to it,” McLemore said. ”Like I said, I think I did pretty good tonight on him, tried to slow him. Like you said, he’s very athletic and with his speed and my speed, I think that’s why coach put me on him to guard him. Because with my quickness and his quickness, I could try to slow him down a little bit more.”
Kings see progress despite the losses
The Kings started off this new season with questionable effort. Some nights they would bring it, other nights they would not. But over the last two weeks, their energy and desire have not been a question.
“The most important thing is getting the win, but we do see progress,” said Kings guard Isaiah Thomas, who scored 21 of his 24 points in the fourth quarter of yesterday’s loss to the Oklahoma City Thunder. “Last year, we were a team that wasn’t in a lot of games like this, especially with real good teams. We were either winning or losing by 20.”
The Kings have lost five games in a row, but have not gone down easily in most of them. With the exception of a 14-point loss to the Los Angeles Lakers a week and a half ago, Sacramento has fallen by a margin of just six points or less four times in their five-game losing streak.
They’ve hung tight against some stiff competition as well. Last night, they came back from a 17-point deficit to nearly force overtime against Oklahoma City. On Sunday, they fell to the Golden State Warriors by two-points in a high scoring affair. And last Friday, they pushed the Los Angeles Clippers to an extra period of play in a six-point loss.
“We’re losing a lot of close games,” Malone said yesterday evening. “But if we stay together and continue to fight like that, things will get better. And that’s my biggest challenge is to constantly remind them and demand them we have to stay together. Don’t start splitting apart and losing belief and trust in each other. And they haven’t, which is a credit to them in light of some difficult losses that we’re staying together right now.”
Cousins misses first game due to injury
Not often does DeMarcus Cousins miss a game due to injury, but such was the case yesterday for the Kings starting center against the Thunder.
Cousins was in street clothes for Tuesday night’s game due to a sprained right ankle. Malone didn’t find out until a few hours before yesterday’s game that his team’s best player would not be able to go against Oklahoma City.
“After shootaround (Tuesday), he got in treatment,” Malone said of Cousins. ”I know it was bothering him and I talked to Pete D’Alessandro and I talked to (athletic trainer) Pete Youngman and I didn’t want to push it. If it was bothering him, give him some rest and get him ready for Friday and Saturday.”
Up until last night, Cousins had played in all of the Kings’ first 15 games. This is just the third time in his four-year career that he’s missed a game due to injury. Last season, Cousins sat out two contests on Mar. 13 and 17 due to a left-quad contusion.