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Common themes prevailed in the Spurs 112-104 win over the Kings in San Antonio on Friday night.
Sacramento, playing without center DeMarcus Cousins due to a virus, regained two other starters as Rudy Gay and Darren Collison, who were both questionable coming into the game.
Despite their return, the Kings' defensive inconsistency were exploited by San Antonio.
After being held to 11 points in the Kings victory over the Spurs on November 15, Tony Parker made a statement on Friday with 27 points and 8 assists.
[INSTANT REPLAY: Short-handed Kings drop road game to Spurs]
“If you don’t get into these guys and have some physicality, they’re going to get wherever they want to go and they’re too good,” Kings coach Michael Malone told reporters after the game.
“They’re the defending champs for a reason,” Malone continued.
Initiated by Parker, San Antonio’s ball movement enabled the Spurs to outscore the Kings 52-36 in the paint while also shooting 12-for-24 from 3-point range.
“When you play the defending champs in their building and allow them to shoot 51 percent overall and 50 percent from 3-point range, you’re going to have a very tough time winning,” commented Malone.
In addition to Parker, four Spurs reached in double figures - Kawhi Leonard (19), Tim Duncan (18), Danny Green (11) and Aron Baynes (10), reflecting San Antonio’s depth.
“Marked difference from when we played them last week when we beat them at home when our defense was great, we took care of the basketball and that’s why we won,” said Malone.
“Turnovers and no defense were the reasons we lost,“ Malone said.
Sacramento turned the ball over 15 times leading to 20 points for the Spurs.
Malone’s concern on defense isn’t lost on the roster.
“We weren’t in a position where we needed to be most of the time as far as our rotations and you can’t do that against a team like the San Antonio Spurs,” Darren Collison, who had missed the previous two games due to injury, told the media in San Antonio.
“We weren’t good last game against Houston (allowed 102 points in a loss) and … against San Antonio (allowed 112 points), we were worse than we were last game.
“We just got to get back to who we are and what we do.”
Defense remains a fickle part of the Kings game.
In the Kings nine wins they’re allowing 97.9 points per game. In their seven losses they’re allowing 104.7 points per game.
“It’s a mentality and we have to have it,” said Malone “In our nine wins we have it. In our seven losses we don’t.
“I never know which team is going to show up. Are we going to be a team that decides to defend for forty-eight (minutes), and value the basketball and plays together? Or a team that tries to outscore people and not defend.
“I think it’s been proven in our losses, we can’t play like that.”
The Spurs were without coach Gregg Popovich who is recovering from an undisclosed minor medical procedure.
Rudy Gay returned to the lineup after missing two games with right Achilles tendinitis and led the Kings in scoring with 23 points while securing eight rebounds.
The former UConn Huskie also had eight assists, which represents the next step in the development of his game as a facilitator.
The Kings couldn’t contain the Spurs offense, allowing 112 points on 51 percent shooting from the floor including 50 percent from 3-point range.
The Kings battled and demonstrated resiliency, which is a good quality to have through a long NBA season.
A split of a road-trip is a sign of progress for a team trying to turn things around.
However, consistency on defense remains a major question mark for the Kings pursuit of being a legitimate playoff contender in the tough Western Conference of the NBA.