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Kings still searching for a defensive lineup

Another head-scratching loss leads to more questions about the Kings defense.

Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

Vlade Divac exited the Sacramento Kings locker room and briefly chatted with his assistant general manager Mike Bratz. Quickly, he turned his attention down the hallway toward the security exit of Sleep Train Arena, walking in that direction. Not finding who he was seeking, he turned back and checked in the VIP lounge. Nope, not there. After that, he disappeared toward the team bus area. This was following a 109-97 loss to the 11-win New Orleans Pelicans at home. Divac's search was a departure from the usual gathering of himself, director of player personnel and development Peja Stojakovic and Kings owner Vivek Ranadive that typically takes place outside of the locker room following a game.

Moments prior, Ranadive had quickly exited the arena. Maybe Divac was looking for him.

Maybe he was simply looking to chat with an old friend.

Maybe he was looking for someone who can play perimeter defense.

Around the corner from this search in the media lounge, Kings head coach George Karl was being asked why his team was leaving players on the New Orleans Pelicans wide open for threes, allowing them to shoot 48 percent from long distance. After saying his team is not supposed to come off the three ball on defense and singling out Marco Belinelli for rotating when he shouldn't have, Karl was asked about possibly going to some his defensive players earlier in games or even starting them.

"I'm sure we'll gradually move into a starting lineup that will probably be more defensive-minded," Karl said.

This could mean a couple of things. Either Karl expects the players he is currently starting to gradually become better defenders (or understand his schemes better) or he is considering a starting lineup change. Since the question was posed with the mention of Willie Cauley-Stein, it sounds like changes could be coming.

Cauley-Stein and Seth Curry have been two of the Kings best defenders as of late. Karl has even trusted Curry down the stretch in clutch situations (36 minutes against the Dallas Mavericks last Tuesday). Widely known as an offensive player coming into his first true stint in the NBA, Curry has proven he can stay in front of his man just as well as anyone on the roster. And Cauley-Stein is who everyone thought he was coming out of the draft - he changes the game when he steps on the floor with his lateral quickness and ability to alter shots. Cauley-Stein played 30-plus minutes twice in the first week of the season and averaged 13 points, 8 rebounds and 2 blocks in those two games. After a few injuries and questions about his conditioning, his minutes have been hit and miss. In Wednesday's loss to the Pelicans, he looked ready for extended minutes when he helped DeMarcus Cousins spur a comeback attempt that fell short. Giving Curry and Cauley-Stein more minutes could mean less minutes for guys like Ben McLemore, who continues to struggle with consistency, Omri Casspi (which would be tough), Kosta Koufos and Belinelli.

Cousins, who was the only one of the team's big 3 (Rajon Rondo, Rudy Gay, and himself) left in the locker room by the time the media arrived Wednesday night, took blame for the lack of effort from the Kings against the Pelicans. Cousins said he should have spoken up to his teammates earlier in the game. The loss came after a couple of days off and talk about being a playoff team.

"It's been our problem all year, we're all talk right now, not backing up what we're preaching so we look foolish," Cousins told reporters.

The Kings need to do a lot more than talk about their defensive schemes and effort so they don't look foolish. A guy like Luc Mbah a Moute sure would be helpful right about now.

There is still time to get things right, but clearly the players, Karl and Divac are still searching.