For the first time this season, the negative buzz surrounding the Sacramento Kings has toned down a bit. Since returning from their eight game road trip, the Kings have developed a new identity built by adversity and experience.
The Kings opened up their six-game homestand with a buzzer beater loss to the Phoenix Suns, to only follow it up the next night with an overtime victory over the Golden State Warriors.
After a win against the best team in the NBA, the Kings staged a 27-point comeback against the Chicago Bulls to only lose in the final seconds to a Dwayne Wade jumper.
After trading away heartbreaking wins and losses, Sacramento locked in on Isaiah Thomas and the second place Eastern Conference Boston Celtics. With no DeMarcus Cousins due to his automatic technical foul one game suspension, Sacramento cruised to their best victory of the season over the C’s.
Just two days later, the Kings followed up the Boston win with a 22-point comeback over the Atlanta Hawks. The win over the Hawks was the best 3-point shooting performance of the season and good for best all-time in Sacramento history with 18 three’s made.
After Cousins was reinserted into the lineup against Atlanta following the suspension, he wasn’t the force that sparked the comeback. It was Anthony Tolliver and Ben McLemore who fought to get the game close and then Cousins was there to seal the victory.
With victories over three above .500 teams in the last five games, there was no question that the Kings would have to wrap up their homestand with a victory over the New Orleans Pelicans Sunday night. And they did just that.
The Kings fought hard in a 105-99 victory and the overall effort by the team was at an all time high for the stand. The intensity within every possession defensively and offensively carried the weight of a playoff game deeming that the Kings are seeking the eighth seed.
Every time Cousins is matched up with one of the best bigs in the game, he tends to deliver with huge numbers. On Sunday night that player (Anthony Davis) was more significant than most as he edged Cousins from the starting spot in the all-star game.
The two ex Kentucky Wildcats each had monster games of their own with Cousins coming out on top at the end. Unfortunately, Cousins and Davis did not get the liberty of guarding each other in the matchup but their importance to their teams was on full display.
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Cousins had his most efficient night of the six game homestand against the Pelicans as he scored 28 points on 7-of-14 shooting, 14-of-16 from the line while racking up 14 rebounds and seven assists. Cousins did pick up his 17th technical foul on the season and will serve another suspension if he were to pick up an 18th in the near future.
Matt Barnes was also served with a technical foul Sunday night bringing his tech total to eight on the season.
The Kings were without their defensive stopper in Garrett Temple throughout their homestand as he sat out with a torn left hamstring. Temple will be out for two more weeks and will be reevaluated after the all-star break. Even without Temple, the Kings found a way to play aggressive team defense with no need for a single lockdown defender.
“I think defense is always going to be effort,” said Barnes. “You know we have a big team so were able to switch a lot, you know so I just think were able to communicate a little better, you know play harder, play consistent, play hard and it’ll be fine. Like I said we got a lot of talent, we’ve got a lot of people hurt but we still have guys stepping up and doing a good job. But like I said if our energy level stays consistent then we’ll keep winning.”
Sacramento was without Ty Lawson for the later part of the home stand as he sat out against the Hawks and Pelicans with a left hamstring strain suffered against the Celtics.
Lawson had two big games as he scored 18 points against the Phoenix Suns and 22 points in the loss to the Bulls. Lawson should be back in the lineup soon and is listed as day-to-day.
Willie Cauley-Stein and McLemore had a breakout homestand. Cauley-Stein earned increased minutes with his energetic plays, while McLemore started to show some promise and extreme confidence in his shot.
With injuries to Temple and Lawson, McLemore’s number was called and he delivered. McLemore averaged 30 minutes per game during the homestand and averaged 13.3 points per game. McLemore also scored very efficiently as he shot over 45 percent from the field and 48 percent from beyond the arc.
There was no question who was the engine that kept the Kings afloat during the homestand and that man is Darren Collison. Collison averaged 19.8 points during the home stand, 6.3 points above his season average.
Just like McLemore, Collison played with extreme confidence and literally put the team on his back. With no Lawson in the final two games of the stand, Collison was forced to play increased minutes, (44 against ATL, 41 against NO).
Last but not least, the overall perception of Cousins changed just slightly. The homestand was brutal, close losses, tempered battles, but Cousins mentally came out more mature at the end.
“We know that he’s trying his best to keep his cool and he’s done a good job,” Collison said. “He’s done a good job of keeping his poise for the most part.”
A technical foul for an apparent swipe of a Bulls assistant coach along with a late game tech with less than 10 seconds to play cost Cousins to watch his team from home the following game. Without him the team played very well in a win and later said he was proud of what his guys did in his absence.
Cousins wished he was there to contribute to the beat down of his ex teammate Isaiah Thomas, but his team held him down. Cousins’ late game heroics against the Hawks pushed the Kings to a victory and despite all previous actions during the stand, he kept calm and dug deep.
Sunday night Cousins was called for his 17th technical of the season on a controversial call, which could be rescinded by the league at a later date. After the call was made coach Joerger immediately took Cousins out of the game and Cousins preceded straight into the tunnel.
Cousins would use the break into the second quarter to ease his mind and let off whatever steam he had against the technical foul in private without risking any additional on court reaction.
Cousins remained humble and stuck to the game plan while getting bumped and hit on almost every drive or screen. In the past Cousins would have reacted in a more fatal way towards the referees but he kept his cool and helped his team edge out a victory.
The all around attitude and body language from the team is better than it has been all season and coach Joerger might have found a consistent lineup and rotation. Most teams would fade out as the all-star weekend approaches, but the Kings are not letting down and will be ready to face the Los Angeles Lakers on Tuesday night.