Kings Plus: A look at this week's games and the weekly "Fire and Ice" results
SAN ANTONIO - Here's the thing about the Kings and their awful defense: it has everything to do with their offense.
It may not be ideal, but it's true. As former coach Reggie Theus said time and time again, this group has a tendency to ramp up the defensive intensity and focus when their own shots are falling only to revert to sleepwalking mode when they're not scoring. And while their defense certainly needs an upgrade from Swiss cheese to cheese cloth, the numbers show that the losing will continue until they find a way to get, as Donte' Greene likes to say, buckets!
Sixteen times the Kings have scored fewer than 100 points this season. And 16 times they've lost. In the 11 games in which they've scored 100-plus points, they're 7-4. It is a real problem, and it's not real easy to fix.
As it stands, John Salmons and, to a lesser extent, Francisco Garcia are the only scorers whose buckets are coming somewhat consistently. Meanwhile, Spencer Hawes is being tinkered with in the post and on the perimeter as interim coach Kenny Natt tries to figure out how he is best used, Beno Udrih just isn't shooting like he did last season and Brad Miller's role is such that his scoring will come and go as a matter of routine. And while Salmons' 19.9 points per game average would seem to be a positive in every way, his isolation ways still have a tendency to bring the ball movement to a halt if he goes to work for a few possessions in a row.
Yet while the Kings' offense is far from atrocious in the rankings (17th in points scored at 97.4 per game and 13th in field-goal percentage at 45.5), their inability to get to the free-throw line (ranked 24th at 23 attempts per game) has hurt their production and certainly not helped their defense. Long rebounds on jumpers mean an easy start the other way in transition and a defense on its heels. Not to mention the fringe benefit of getting a few more breathers during play while the easy points add up.
While this is only one element of their scoring situation, take it for what it's worth that they are averaging 24.1 free throws in their seven wins as well as 25.1 attempts in the 11 games in which they scored 100-plus points. Natt addressed this situation after Saturday night's loss, which may have been the worst of the season on this front. By the time Miller had drove the lane and been fouled with 2:22 left in the third, the Kings had shot exactly two free throws the entire game and trailed by 11 points. They would get more aggressive down the stretch and finish with 17 attempts (making 15), but that was too little too late as far as Natt was concerned.
"We were looking for perimeter shots too much," Natt said.
Asked specifically about Salmons, who has been baffled recently at his inability to get calls and earned a rare technical at Houston while sharing that frustration, Natt said it's not all the fault of the officials.
"It's more him," Natt said. "It's being more aggressive early instead of settling for perimeter jumpers. It's not only John, but Cisco. They'd be much better off if we can get (the opposing team) on their heels by being more aggressive."
* Jeff McDonald of the San Antonio Express-News has a good read on Udrih as he is set to play in his old stomping rounds.
McDonald attended the Kings' walk-through while I was being delayed back in New Orleans, but Udrih said at the session that his sore left hamstring felt good and he should be ready to play if he feels the same way Monday night.
* Steve Luhm of the Salt Lake Tribune writes an insightful piece about Natt and his new job. I hit on the topic in Monday's paper, with an analysis on how Natt became the replacement for Theus. - Sam Amick