New Look Kings Put Strong West on Notice


Nobody – native Sacramentans included – could have predicted the Kings’ hot start.

The Royal Purple boast a 3-1 recording heading into tonight’s game against the Denver Nuggets.

The Kings are winners of three-straight, besting the Portland Trailblazers, Los Angeles Clippers, and tonight’s opponent, the Nuggets (back-to-back; away and home), in gritty fashion.

Their sole loss was to a talented Golden State Warriors squad that is considered a contender in NBA groupthink (not to insinuate that the Warriors are anything but a legitimate title contender, rather the season is young and predictions will change).

Making bold statements this early in the season is foolish — the Kings are a work-in-progress. Still, they’ve won by embracing the idea that they must work hard – constantly – if they want a fighter’s chance in the deep Western Conference.

If you’re a Kings fan, then you know there have been moments – primarily during last season’s stretch run – when the team played uncommitted and lackluster basketball. The losses carried weight (the Kings know this better than anyone) and, by season’s end, there was zero ball-movement on offense and the defense was lifeless and indeterminate.

Basically, they stopped trying.

But the start of the 2014 season has rekindled hope.

The Kings are once again sacrificing their bodies for loose balls, anticipating defensive rotations, and out-working teams on offense with constant movement.

Last season, the Kings behaved like a team that was above their 28-54 record. This season, they’re acting like a team that wants to show its change through an improved win-loss total.

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You can’t win in the West without a zeal for basketball. These Kings are hungry and play with urgency.

They finished 23rd in points allowed per 100 possessions last season. This season – albeit a young one – they’re ranked seventh in defensive efficiency.

Darren Collison summarized the Kings’ start without fluffy praise:

“We’re holding ground.”

While it’s true the Kings improved their roster in the off-season, much of their success can be contributed to the play of “veterans” (I say this loosely, as even the tenured are young on this team).

DeMarcus Cousins, Jason Thompson, and Reggie Evans have been formidable in the key and are defending and rotating in perfect harmony. In the Western Conference, frontcourts are dominated by size. If you wanna hang, you better be ready to bang.

The Kings are protecting the rim and creating turnovers, which in turn ignites the offense. Collison, Ray McCallum, and Ramon Sessions are forcing the action by pushing the tempo after turnovers.

Rudy Gay is averaging 23.3 points per game, with a third of his points coming from the charity stripe. He’s found an early season rhythm not because of volume, but because of opportunity. The combination of improved defense and uptempo offense has created easy shots – usually from close proximity – for him. 

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  • The Kings are fourth in the NBA in free thrown attempts with 150. Gay, Cousins, and Collison are ranked third, fifth, and seventh, respectively.

    It’s basketball in motion, and like it so often is, defense is the catalyst to success.

    The Kings are trapping guards on the perimeter, closing down corner shooters, and out-rebounding teams.

    Their 143 defensive rebounds is the third-highest total in the league; opponents are shooting just 44% at the cup; only one team (Nuggets) has reached 100 points against them.

    All this coming while the Kings are just 13th in the NBA in scoring and well below the league average in field goal percentage (48) at 43.7 percent.

    If they remain solid on defense, then it’s plausible the offense will improve and this team will be even better than it currently is.

    The blueprint is in place. Can the Kings maintain their success? Who knows… What I do know is they’ll battle each opponent to the end, and figure to find themselves on the winning end more than they have in recent years.

    New team; new identity; new arena on the horizon.

    Let’s hope all are here to stay.