Kings' loss to Spurs exposes concerning playoff traits


SACRAMENTO -- The Kings’ defense is a problem.

It’s been an issue all year long, and unless something drastic changes soon, it could be their downfall in the 2023 NBA playoffs.

After the cameras and microphones were turned off Sunday following the Kings’ concerning 142-134 loss to the San Antonio Spurs, coach Mike Brown shuffled off the podium in the press conference room at Golden 1 Center.

But before he disappeared into the locker room hallway, he peeked his head back in and reiterated his one alarming point:

“Once again,” Brown said, “If you score 123 points in regulation, there’s no way you should lose the game.”

The Kings did score 123 points in four quarters and did lose to an organization thinking more about player development and lottery balls than playoff seeding this time of year.

After Kings guard Kevin Huerter missed a potential game-winning 3-pointer at the buzzer, the Spurs missed just one field-goal attempt in overtime and outscored the Kings 19-11 in the extra period to steal the victory.

It was a frustrating end to a game Kings fans pinned as a day to clinch and celebrate the franchise’s first Pacific Division title since 2003. Instead, the Kings’ ugliest traits showed up.

Spurs two-way player Julian Champagnie more than doubled his previous career high (12) with 26 points. Tre Jones logged his first career triple-double. Doug McDermott, in his ninth NBA season, posted his fourth career 30-point game.


“The alarm has been going off for a long time,” guard De’Aaron Fox said. “At some point, you’ve got to stop it.”

Kings players and coaches have lauded Golden 1 Center for its home-court advantage this season. It’s one of the loudest arenas in the NBA and opponents have said the same thing. But for some reason, it doesn’t show up in the results.

The Kings are the only Western Conference team with a worse record at home (23-17) than on the road (24-14). They have allowed opponents to score at least 130 points in Sacramento five times and unsurprisingly, are winless in those contests. On the season, Sacramento is allowing 120.1 points per contest at Golden 1 Center.

Perhaps the worst part about that stat? It’s not boosted by the Kings' 176-175 double-overtime win over the Los Angeles Clippers. That game was played at Arena.

“The reality is we play soft at home,” Brown said. “I hate to say it, but that’s what it is. It’s factual. We have trouble stopping people on our floor.

“The tough part about it is our crowd is fantastic. … We don’t have a lot of guys that want to or are able to consistently dig in and play at a high level with some sort of physicality on the defensive end.”

Fox agreed with his coach's comments.

“I feel like our defense has traveled better on the road than it has at home,” Fox added. “We’ve got to figure out how to fix that.”

The Kings are guaranteed to have home-court advantage in a first-round series as a top-four seed. Their shortcomings on the home hardwood combined with the ugly defensive woes and playoff inexperience are why other teams and NBA pundits are labeling Sacramento as a favorable postseason matchup.

“If I’m another [playoff] team, I’m targeting us, too,” Brown bluntly said after the loss. “We’re the only ones that can change that narrative.”

RELATED: Why Kings will be playoff ready despite perceived inexperience

The hideous defensive numbers won't move much over the next four games. Seventy-eight games in, the Kings are who they've proven to be: A historic offense with a problematic defense.

But they do have an opportunity to lock in and change their defensive intensity when finishing off the regular season in the next seven days against the New Orleans Pelicans, Dallas Mavericks, Golden State Warriors and Denver Nuggets.

Let’s make this clear: This season already is a success. The Kings are a playoff team and anything more accomplished is icing on the cake.

But if they don’t fix their glaring defensive issues, that 17-year wait for the playoffs might not be paid off with more than a handful of postseason games.

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