SACRAMENTO — The Sacramento Kings and Los Angeles Lakers were expected to take little time settling into the bottom portion of the Western Conference standings this season.
Instead, they've spent the campaign's first two weeks stubbornly rebuking that conventional wisdom.
Not that they seem all that pleased with themselves heading into the first meeting at the new Golden 1 Center Thursday night.
Article continues below ...
“We can get better,” Kings C DeMarcus Cousins told reporters after Sacramento's 102-94 win over the New Orleans Pelicans on Tuesday. “We had some letups that you can't have.”
Cousins' comments came on the heels of Sacramento's second straight victory. A third consecutive win would put the Kings (4-5) at .500 after 10 games, the second time in three seasons they will have had such an encouraging start. That 2014-15 campaign featured a 9-5 burst from the gate before things fell apart, a path these Kings are trying to avoid.
Without more consistent intensity and defensive execution, they will struggle to do so, coaches and players said.
“I kept getting ticked off about all the shots they were making,” Kings coach Dave Joerger said after watching the Pelicans make 49 percent of their shots from the field in the second half, including 10 of 20 in the third quarter. “But I kept looking up, and the score was never getting away from us. Ninety-six possessions. That's not a slow-paced game.”
Sacramento's defense has been sneaky good at times but it also has gone missing too.
The Kings have held three opponents under 100 points and won all three times. But they have surrendered an average of 107.0 points in their five losses. In all, they've allowed an average of 101.4 points in their first nine contests, down from a league-worst 109.1 per game last season and 13th among the league's 30 teams.
“It's not something that you can just come out and do,” Cousins said. “It takes a lot of energy, but it also takes a mindset and a focus. We have to more consistent that way.”
Lakers coach Luke Walton has conveyed a similar message about his team. Fresh off the worst three seasons in franchise history, Los Angeles proved a surprise in the first two weeks, putting together a three-game winning streak and showing off an offense that is tied for fifth in scoring (108.6 points per game). A win against the Kings will give the Lakers four wins in a five-game stretch for the first time since November 2013.
But Walton, the first-year coach who won two championships with the Lakers as a player, doesn't seem to be focused on wins and losses, so much as he is his team's growth.
“If we lose three in a row, all the stories will be the same, about a young team that's trying to figure it out,” Walton told the Los Angeles Daily News. “I've said it from the beginning: We try not to get caught up in all that, not worry about that. Just focus on what we do as a group.”
So far, the group has looked to one another to score. D'Angelo Russell, Lou Williams, Jordan Clarkson, Julius Randle and Nick Young all are averaging at least 14 points per game. Williams, Luol Deng and Russell are also making at least 34 percent of their 3-pointers.
Cousins is averaging 25.5 points and has led Sacramento in scoring in seven of its nine games. He averaged 27 points and 11.3 rebounds in four games against Los Angeles last season.
Sacramento has won the last seven meetings with the Lakers. The Kings averaged 117 points in four games last season and swept the season series from Los Angeles for the first time.