Raptors (11-17) at Kings (7-22)
Scoring: Kings 17th (96.9), Raptors 22nd (95.8).
Shooting: Kings tied for 12th (45.3 percent), Raptors tied for 18th (44.5).
Scoring defense: Kings 28th (105.7), Raptors 18th (99.4).
Shooting defense: Kings 27th (47.6 percent), Raptors tied for 19th (45.4).
The links: Raptors coverage in the Toronto Star and Toronto Sun.
The almanac: On this date in 1976, Larry Kenon of the Spurs set a league record with 11 steals. Kendall Gill of the Nets tied the mark April 3, 1999. On this date in 2000, Don Nelson of the Mavericks moved into third place on the all-time coaching win list with 945 victories. On this date in 2001, Larry Brown of the 76ers became the ninth coach to reach 800 NBA victories.
Kenny Natt said he would be straightforward, and he has been. In referencing players who need to improve in certain areas, he has named names. In trying to upgrade the defense, he has gone to the most basic of high school practice drills. In trying to streamline the offense, he told the Kings to walk the ball up in hopes of cutting down on turnovers.
The Natt explanation for the rise in turnovers since he became coach, though, is not true. Factually incorrect. Mishandling of the ball has been a constant problem and has come under greater scrutiny as criticism of Beno Udrih has increased and Natt came up with the perfect dodge by citing a heavy workload as the cause.
His exact comment to Melody Gutierrez in the Wednesday paper was, "I'm playing some guys a lot of minutes, because I need to play them a lot of minutes, and obviously, fatigue sets in. Bringing guys out earlier in the game will keep guys fresher and make us more efficient."
In reality: Natt is playing guys less.
Francisco Garcia's minutes are up, which is predictable. Garcia was brought back slowly after missing the first 17 games with a strained calf -- 13 minutes in the debut Nov. 28, 18 the next outing -- so his numbers are going to be skewed. The increase was obviously coming.
In the five games since Natt replaced Theus, Garcia is up about three minutes a game and Bobby Jackson is up 3.5. But among the nine Kings getting the most time, discounting the injured Kevin Martin, John Salmons is down slightly, Udrih is down slightly, Spencer Hawes is down slightly, Brad Miller is down nearly four per outing, Jason Thompson is down slightly, Mikki Moore is down slightly and Bobby Brown is basically holding steady.
This is not a roster being pushed to exhaustion. Playing the five games in eight nights and five different cities with two back-to-backs is definitely a hardship, but every team has that challenge several times a season. Plus, there was a blowout victory against the Timberwolves and blowout losses to the Trail Blazers and Spurs, providing the chance to rest the regulars. Double plus, the Kings had three consecutive days off the first week of December, a pair of two-day breaks the second week and another two-day R&R the third week.
If this is a fatigue thing, as Natt suggests, strap in for a real fun March and April, when guys will be worn by an entire season. If this group checked out in November, imagine the focus while playing out the string in a 20-something-win 2008-09.
The other possibilities for the increase in turnovers:
*The Kings led the league in errors last season and have the same starting point guard this season, though new backups in Brown and combo-guard Jackson. Of course they're going to be bad again. It's not like they were a precision unit before these five games. They've just been statistically worse: 16.6 per game under Natt to drop the season-long average to 15.9.
*It's nothing but fun with numbers. The 16.6 is third-worst in the league the past five outings. The two teams behind the Kings in that span: the Celtics and Jazz.
And two big-picture concerns on the topic:
*None of the opponents -- Timberwolves, Blazers, Rockets, Hornets and Spurs -- are known for pressure defense. Defense, yes. (Not you, Minnesota and Portland). Forcing turnovers, no. And still the turnovers came.
*Natt can downshift all he wants, having told the Kings to walk the ball up Monday in San Antonio, but it's not like this is a speed problem. The mistakes come with regularity in halfcourt sets, too. It doesn't get more straightforward than that.