On one of their longer road trips of the season so far, the Kings lost three games in dramatic fashion—a blowout loss to the 76ers without Joel Embiid, an overtime loss to a Damian Lillard buzzer-beater, and a blown 20-point lead in Phoenix—and then added a loss at home to a short-handed Pacers team.
The record looks bad, but there were some bright spots as well. Kevin Huerter, for example, found his shot, and Keegan Murray had big games everywhere except for Milwaukee. Mike Brown also mentioned that the offense looked more like Kings basketball again, and in the first forty minutes in Phoenix, they played the best defense since he got there.
Tonight, the Kings will face the Hawks at home after three days of rest and then embark on a seven-game road trip, starting with a Rivals Week matchup against the Warriors.
That’s a long trip, and the results will impact the Kings’ standing in the Western Conference. So, let’s look at three issues the Kings need to work through to have a successful road trip.
- Free-Throw Shooting
The Kings are dead last in free-throw shooting percentage, shooting only 72.5 percent. De’Aaron Fox and Domantas Sabonis average by far the most free-throw attempts for the Kings but only shoot 71.7 and 66.8 percent respectively from the line.
Malik Monk, Harrison Barnes, and Keegan Murray all shoot over 80 percent but also all average less than three attempts per game, not impacting the team’s shooting much. This terrible free-throw shooting already cost them the win in Milwaukee, and you desperately don’t want that to happen again if you’re the Kings.
Whether the solution is shooting hundreds of free throws in practice or being more focused on the line, something has to change.
- Perimeter defense
This is an old topic with the Kings by now. Keegan Murray and De’Aaron Fox have come a long way as defenders, but that is simply not enough. No one else who sees regular playing time is a plus defender on the perimeter.
When you have someone like Rudy Gobert or Brook Lopez around the rim to erase defensive mistakes from others, it’s not that big of an issue. The Kings don’t have that, however.
Domantas Sabonis is not a rim protector, but he is crucial to the Kings’ offensive success, so they need to work around his defensive shortcomings. The answer is better defense on the perimeter to keep players out of the paint.
A trade might be the best option to address that but until that happens the team will have to work with what they have. That means everyone has to take pride in their defense, slide their feet, bump opponents every once in a while, get in the passing lanes, scramble, and take charges.
They don’t have to turn into a top defense overnight—that will never happen with the players they have—but they should at least be good enough to make offenses work. Technically, the Kings are 17th in the league in defensive rating, which is okay considering the personnel, but a lot of times it doesn’t look like it.
Against the Bucks, they just let Damian Lillard walk into his three, and against the Pacers, they let T.J. McConnell score twenty points without attempting a single three. Things like that just can’t happen, and some of it can be prevented if everyone is locked in and puts in the work.
- Play until the final buzzer
This one has been a theme all season long as well. Some of the Kings’ worst losses were a result of them being down early and then just waving the white flag. That is inexcusable for a team that wants to compete in the playoffs and will be a problem if they don’t address it.
We saw it in Phoenix. The Kings were playing good basketball on both ends of the floor for 40 minutes. Then, they fell apart and gave up a twenty-point lead in the last eight minutes, letting the Suns take the win.
It’s a long season, and players get tired, especially someone like De’Aaron Fox, who carries such a big load for the Kings, but they have to battle through that and play every game with maximum effort until the final buzzer.
This applies to defense and offense alike. Too often, the team settles for threes, at all points of the game, instead of getting to the rim and putting pressure on the defense. When the shots are falling, it’s fine. If they are not, it’s a problem.
The same goes for moving the ball. Per game, the Kings rank fifth in assists across the league and generally move the ball well. It is an important part of their offense and puts pressure on the defense.
In the fourth quarter, their average drops significantly compared to the other three quarters, however, suggesting that the Kings are moving away from their brand of basketball late in the game.
It is not easy to give 100 percent on both ends of the floor for 48 minutes, but that’s what the Kings have to do if they want to end this next road trip with a winning record. None of the games, except maybe against the taking Memphis Grizzlies, will be an “easy” one.