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The Sacramento Kings' Isaiah Thomas (22) drives and scores past the Memphis Grizzlies' Zach Randolph (50) and Marc Gasol (33) in the third quarter on Wednesday, Jan. 29, 2014, at Sleep Train Arena in Sacramento, Calif. Memphis won, 99-89. (José Luis Villegas/Sacramento Bee/MCT)

Kings lose as Grizzlies' Conley exploits poor defense

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- If Memphis Grizzlies guard Mike Conley wanted to compile a highlight film of plays for his candidacy for the NBA All-Star Game, he could do so solely off his three games against the Sacramento Kings.

Conley averaged 22 points and 7.5 assists in his first two games against the Kings and once again put up great numbers against them as Memphis sent Sacramento to its fifth consecutive loss, 99-89, Wednesday night at Sleep Train Arena.

Conley had 27 points and 10 assists, exploiting the Kings' poor defense for a third time this season.

"The reason I like Mike Conley so much is because he's a guy that plays both ends of the floor," said Kings coach Michael Malone. "That's becoming a rare breed in the NBA ... He's had his way with us all three games this year and that's why he is the player that he is."

Malone is searching for players who play both ends of the floor after watching the Grizzlies (24-20) shoot 54.7 percent. The Kings (15-30) fell to 0-11 when allowing an opponent to shoot 50 percent or better.

Malone found himself sitting Marcus Thornton much of the game and searched for someone who would put up a fight defensively.

"I've been a hypocrite all year," Malone said. "I preach defense. That's what I believe in and we're one of the worst defensive teams in the league. So for me, if you don't play defense -- it's not just Marcus Thornton -- if you don't play defense, I can't play you. It's ridiculous that we give up 54 percent shooting to this team. They play a back-to-back and they come into our building and just score at will."

Malone finds himself in a situation similar to the one faced last year by his predecessor, Keith Smart. He might want to play defensive players, but that could mean not playing his best offensive players.

Whereas Smart had defensive-minded players such as John Salmons, Chuck Hayes and Toney Douglas to turn to in those situations, the Kings don't have as many players who could be called defensive specialists on the bench.

"Our better offensive players have gotten us 15 wins," Malone said. "At some point, yes, they're scoring the ball. One through 13, no one in there can say they're defending at a high level."

Isaiah Thomas said some of the blame for how point guards have torched the Kings falls on him.

"I've got to do my job of trying to slow them down," Thomas said. "But like I said, it's not an individual guy. It's a team game and it's team defense."

The Kings were bolstered by the return of Rudy Gay, who missed the previous three games with a strained left Achilles suffered last Wednesday in a loss at Houston. Thomas (illness) also played after leaving Monday's loss at Utah in the second half.

Sacramento was without DeMarcus Cousins, who missed his fourth game in a row because of a sprained left ankle. The Kings leave Thursday for a two-game trip Friday against Dallas and Saturday against San Antonio. Malone said he hoped Cousins would return Friday or Saturday.

Gay had 23 points and five assists but also had a team-high five turnovers. Thomas had 24 points and five assists.

Gay said he was rusty and that he "tweaked" his foot, but he would be fine for Friday's game. Gay, who surpassed 10,000 career points Wednesday, was more concerned with the Kings' inability to defend.

"It's something that's continually been a problem and I stand behind coach -- you have to," Gay said. "It's not that he hasn't pushed for us to play defense. I don't know if we're slow to do things, if we're unsure. But it needs to happen fast if we want to get wins."

(c)2014 The Sacramento Bee (Sacramento, Calif.)

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Distributed by MCT Information Services

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