Let's get this out of the way first: the Cleveland Cavaliers have been a pretty bad team this season, and adding a player -- even one as good as Luol Deng -- is not instant salvation. As Kings fans, we know this better than most: adding Rudy Gay didn't make Sacramento instant world-beaters. Integration is a process, and no player you can actually trade for during most seasons will singlehandedly turn around a sunk ship.
So the opponent the Kings faced on Sunday was not great, and that can't be ignored. The same applies to Friday's 20-point win against the Magic. You don't get to play Orlando and Cleveland 82 times, and the opponent doesn't always play like garbage on offense. But the Kings did things that are repeatable in both games, and by repeating those things Sacramento can be a much better team.
Here are those things.
1. One chance and out for the opponent. The Kings held Orlando to 11 offensive boards in 54 chances (20 percent). The Kings held Cleveland to six in 44 opportunities (14 percent). League average this season is about 26 percent, and the Kings rank No. 7 on the season, allowing 24 percent. When you struggle to make opponents miss, you have to rebound well on defense and limit those putback chances. The Kings did so in the two blowout wins.
2. Close hard on threes. It's a tricky balance in defending shooters: if you close too hard, you open yourself up to dribble penetration or open mid-range jumpers. But if you don't close hard enough -- as was the case most of the season for the Kings -- you're conceding more open threes. The Kings have been closing hilariously hard lately, often leaving the defender out of the play. But it's helped, at least in the past two games as overcommitment hasn't resulted in easy buckets for the opponent.
3. Defense to offense to defense. The Kings' defense is worst in transition. Transition offense for the opponent usually comes from a poor offensive possession for the Kings. In the two blowouts, the Kings played really sane offense that usually resulted in buckets. So the Magic and Cavs had to set up in the halfcourt, which allowed Sacramento's defense to get set. And on a decent portion of the Kings' halfcourt stops, Sacramento was able to turn good defense into quick transition offense. The cycle is unstoppable!
4. Efficient offense. Two great offensive performances for the Kings. Sacramento was just 3-14 from long-range against Orlando, but shot 58 percent inside the arc and hit 18-19 from the line. The Kings went 15-30 from long-range against Cleveland and shot 53 percent inside the arc against Cleveland. However they did it, they did it. The Gay-Cousins-Thomas combo is really working, and Derrick Williams and Jimmer Fredette have been brilliant of late.
The Kings will not win by 40 again this season. There will almost assuredly be more losses than wins from this point on. But there were some incredibly encouraging signs over the past three games, especially on defense over the past two games. Progress is all we can demand.
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