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Kings vs. Magic: How Sacramento got (and did not get) stops in Orlando

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The Sacramento defense looked much better than usual on Saturday as the Kings beat the Magic. Why?

Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Given that the Kings have been regularly embarrassing on defense this season, Sacramento's road trip finale on Saturday -- a game against the Magic capping off four games in five nights after long travel -- was ripe for becoming abysmal. Instead, the Kings defended well enough to win, holding one of the league's worst offenses to just above league average efficiency.

I charted the game in a defensive box score to get a sense of just who is giving up lots of open shots. This is a really small sample size, and we won't be doing this for many games. But as an exercise in studying who is losing their man with regularity, I thought it was helpful.

I gave partial credit (or blame) where I felt it appropriate based on what the Kings look like they should be doing. The 'team' entry picked up stats mostly on fast breaks where there was no single King really to blame, or on offensive rebound attempts that weren't the clear fault of a King. 'Open' indicates how many times the player gave up an open shot, whether it went in or not. 'TOV' indicates how often the player had a role (half or full) in a Magic turnover. (I didn't list the obviously unforced errors.)

Player 2PA 2PM 3PA 3PM FTA FTM Points Shots Open TOV
Thomas 3.5 10.5 2 6 1 2 14 17.5 3 3.5
McLemore 4 4 0 1 6 6 14 8 1 0.5
Gay 5.5 8 1 2 2 2 16 11 5.5 0.5
Thompson 7 7.5 1 2 0 1 17 9.5 3.5 2.5
Cousins 3 12 0 1 4 8 10 15 2 5
Williams 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0
Outlaw 1 1 1 1 0 0 5 2 1 0
Acy 1 4.5 0 3 0 1 2 7.5 3 2
Gray 0 1.5 0 0 0 0 0 1.5 0 0
Fredette 1 3 1 1 0 0 5 4 1 0
Thornton 3 5 2 4 0 0 12 9 6 0
Team 2 2 0 0 1 3 5 2 4 0

There are a couple of data errors in here on double-check (I counted some missed long two as a missed three, and missed two other missed two-point attempts that likely came off of offensive rebounds for Orlando), so grain of salt with all of it. But there are some things that the data and a close look at the game show.

* DeMarcus Cousins did a good job defensively. While Nikola Vucevic struggled, Cousins only gave up two total open shots, had a hand in five Magic turnovers and his marks (both bigs and guards he had to step up on off the pick-and-roll) shot 3-13 from the floor. Again, part of this is that Vucevic looked off and the Magic are poor offensively. But he did his job most of the night on defense. Was he responding to Michael Malone's harsh criticisms of the team?

* Marcus Thornton might have saved the game on offense ... but man, he was just not there defensively, giving up six open shots in 22 minutes. His marks shot 5-9. What's bad is that as a smaller two-guard he can't afford to lose his guy because he doesn't have the length to make it up.

* Rudy Gay was pretty bad on defense, conceding 5.5 open shots. Tobias Harris was tormenting Gay for a couple of stretches. He, Ben McLemore and Thornton have a bad habit of floating way off of their man without actually doing anything of use in defending the ball. McLemore didn't give up open shots because of it, but his guys still shot well (4-5).

* Isaiah Thomas played huge minutes again (43), but the Magic really attacked him. It burned the Kings early as Isaiah struggled to challenge anything; Jameer Nelson was shooting over him. But overall I thought I.T. did a good job fighting over screens and releasing Cousins and Jason Thompson to get back on their man. There were few successful pick and roll finishes for Orlando; most of the damage was on off-ball cuts and pull-up jumpers.

* Whereas Gay, Thornton and McLemore float, Quincy Acy actively helps ... sometimes when he probably shouldn't. So he left his guy (Harris once, Glen Davis a couple times) wide open. But I enjoyed seeing his activity level. He's not giving up buckets for lack of trying, and he got lucky a couple times when the Magic missed open shots.

* Like Thornton, Jason Thompson had a good game offensively but got totally scorched on defense. I'm starting to think the next piece the Kings need is a plus-defense power forward -- an Ibaka type -- just to see if that fixes a lot of the defensive problems on the pick and roll and in stopping face-up fours. Of course, Ibakas don't exactly grow on trees, nor do the Kings have a ton of salary space for one if they did.

* Derrick Williams must have done a good job on defense, because he played 12 minutes and his guy never took a shot. He guarded Harris and Maurice Harkless.

* Malone played 11 guys. I didn't really expect this from the coach this deep into the season, but with such a weird, deeply shallow roster, I can't blame him.