Michael Malone admittedly wears his emotions on his sleeves. After his team’s latest loss at home, the Sacramento Kings head coach was seething. Malone hates to lose and despises it even more when the losses pile up due to a lack of execution.
Last night’s defeat to the New Orleans Pelicans was a prime example of the latter. In a winnable game, the Kings allowed the Pelicans to shoot better than 54.5 percent from the field and score 36 points in the game’s final period en route to a 13-point victory.
That didn’t sit well with their head coach, who has just about had it with his team’s lack of focus on the floor.
“How many times do you have to hit rock bottom?” Malone said after the loss. “I mean, look at our record. We’ve hit rock bottom four or five times now. So maybe some of these guys are so used to losing, they’re accustomed to it.
“I’m not,” he continued. “I’m not used to losing. I’m used to being in the playoffs and being a competitive team that takes pride in its defense. Right now, we don’t have a lot of guys that do that. So, I’m not sure what their rock bottom is, but I hit my rock bottom one week into the season.”
In his last three coaching stops, Malone has found ways to improve his respective team’s play on defense. So far, he’s been unable to duplicate that success in Sacramento, where the Kings are either last or next to last in several defensive categories.
Through 27 games this season, the Kings are allowing opponents to shoot better than 47.4 percent from the field and a league-worst 40.2 percent from 3-point distance. They are also letting their opposition score more than 102.8 points per contest, which is good for third-worst in the NBA behind the Los Angeles Lakers and Philadelphia 76ers.
Is it the years of futility in the capital city that’s stifled Malone’s cause? Over the last several seasons, the losses have piled up on the Kings all while a me-first culture of play has developed on the court.
“I think that’s how we play sometimes where no matter what guys are saying, we kind of do it our own way sometimes and that hurts us,” Kings point guard Isaiah Thomas said. “Whether it’s gambling on defense, whether it’s running the play and taking it on your own – little things like that man, we gotta get better at it. Or, we’re gonna (continue to) be in this predicament we’re in right now.”
Getting the Kings to play defense for a full 48 minutes has been an uphill battle for Malone. Prior to last night’s game, the Kings head coach pointed out that his team has an inability to remain defensively disciplined against opponents.
His players would agree that sentiment. Thomas compared his team’s focus on defense to that of a child with a low attention span for school. Teammate DeMarcus Cousins suggested they have a tendency to get “bored” with what works.
“The team has a problem with just being consistent,” Cousins said. “Once we find something that works, we have a tendency to go away from it or we get bored with it. But the thing is, if we just stick to that boring basketball, we’ll be a better team.”
Cousins didn’t mince words when it came to expressing his frustrations with the Kings’ play on defense. He’s well aware that he sounds like a broken record when discussing the matter at hand.
“It’s the same (expletive) every night,” Cousins said. “We break down defensively, we don’t talk. Same (expletive). When you keep up with the same (expletive), you’re gonna get the same results and that’s what we’ve been getting.”
Besides making the same mistakes over and over again, perhaps it’s just poor basketball IQ that’s resulted in the Kings’ struggles on defense. Last week in a loss to the Atlanta Hawks, they repeatedly left Kyle Korver open and the sharpshooter made them pay, scoring 24 of his 28 points off eight made 3-pointers.
Against the Pelicans on Monday, they allowed Tyreke Evans to beat them inside. An excellent finisher yet poor shooter, Evans attempted 13 of his 14 shots in the paint. In what might have been his best game of the season for his new team, the former Kings swingman finished with a game-high 25 points on 50 percent shooting from the field.
“I don’t know what it is, but it’s simple things,” Thomas said. “In Atlanta, Kyle Korver, we played him like he wasn’t a shooter. Tyreke Evans, we’re playing him like he is a shooter, going over screens and things like that. No disrespect, but I mean you want to limit that guy. You want to keep him out your paint. That’s how you stop him or contain him at least.”
Since taking the job, Malone’s message to his team has been clear. The first-time head coach is an excellent communicator and knows how to convey his ideas clearly and concisely. But for whatever reason, it just hasn’t sunken in yet, which has put him at wit’s end.
“At some point, these guys have to take responsibility,” Malone said. “Plenty of times, I put it on me. But I tell you what, each guy in that locker room has gotta start looking in the mirror and owning up and taking responsibility for their play and we don’t have a lot of that right now.”