Kings

Rewind: Role players step up, lift Kings to win in Denver

Rewind: Role players step up, lift Kings to win in Denver

When you’re in the hunt, every game matters. Tuesday’s 120-113 win over the Denver Nuggets gave the Sacramento Kings a tiny bit of breathing room in the eighth spot in the Western Conference before they return home for a seven-game homestand.

It’s not often that you’ve heard Kings player talk in January about playoff chances over the last decade. But Sacramento holds a game lead over the Portland Trail Blazers and with the win, a game and a half lead over Denver and they get an opportunity to strengthen their position Wednesday against a depleted Miami Heat team.

“I think we just came out with a sense of urgency,” DeMarcus Cousins told reporters following the game. “We knew how important this game was. This is a team we are battling with for the eighth spot. Of course this is an important win because it can matter at the end of the year.”

Cousins put up big numbers, as he has in almost every game this season. But the story of this win was season-high performances from Arron Afflalo, Darren Collison and Kosta Koufos.

Afflalo missed the previous three games with a strained right elbow, but showed no ill effects against his former team. The veteran shooting guard went off for 19 points on 8-of-11 shooting, using a variety of post moves and even hitting two 3-pointers in the win.

“It’s always fun to play in a familiar building, but we’re in a tight race this year and I just wanted to come back and be ready to play,” Afflalo told CSN’s Kayte Christensen after the game.

Collison had a nice game over the weekend against the Grizzlies, but one night doesn’t end a slump. He built off the Memphis performance with 26 points on 10-of-16 shooting. He got his offense going early and then focused on getting his teammates involved in the third quarter.

“Before these last couple of games, I know I took a step back mentally, kind of deferring to the offense,” Collison said in postgame. “But they told me, ‘it starts with me, you’ve got to be aggressive,’ like I had been earlier in the season, so I’m getting back to that.”

With reserve point guard Ty Lawson out due to injury, Collison finished the night with a team-high seven assists and only turned the ball over twice in 36 minutes of action.  

“They were huge,” Cousins said. “Arron, to come in and play like that off of injury was huge for us. DC finally got rolling. He’s been struggling a little bit of late, but he came in, played with confidence and had a big game for us.”  

Not to be forgotten, Koufos started 81 games for the 57-win 2012-13 Denver team and looked completely comfortable in his old stomping grounds. The 7-footer hit a young, but talented Nuggets frontline with a season-high 18 points on 8-of-9 shooting and chipped in five rebounds.

It was a team effort. Garrett Temple scored all eight of his points in the fourth and finished the night with six rebounds, five assists and two steals. When the Kings needed a basket to stem the tide, Anthony Tolliver found the bottom of the net and Ben McLemore dropped in two 3-balls in the third quarter when the temperature of the game turned up.

“I’ll be the first one to say that we’re not a perfect team,” Cousins said. “We’re not a team that’s going to come out and blow out teams on a nightly basis, but we have to come and approach games the right way on a nightly basis. We got to grind it out, we’ve got to play together, we’ve got to defend at a high level all four quarters or games are going to be tough to win.”

A Denver-Sacramento road-and-home back-to-back is never easy, but the Kings get a Miami Heat team Wednesday night that is also playing a back-to-back after falling in Phoenix on Tuesday. If the Kings want to talk playoffs, they need to show up for games against lesser opponents, regardless of the circumstance.
 

Gameday: Kings go for home-and-home sweep of Blazers sans sharpshooter

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AP

Gameday: Kings go for home-and-home sweep of Blazers sans sharpshooter

Rinse and repeat. After shocking the Portland Trail Blazers Friday evening at Golden 1 Center, the Sacramento Kings hopped on a plane where they’ll face the same team on the second night of a home-and-home back-to-back.

Dave Joerger shook up his lineup on Friday, installing De’Aaron Fox and Skal Labissiere for Bogdan Bogdanovic and Willie Cauley-Stein. The Kings responded with their best defensive effort of the season. Cauley-Stein went off for 22 points and 10 rebounds with the second unit and his defensive effort was next level.

The Blazers have become a two-man wrecking crew. Damian Lillard and C.J. McCollum score the bulk of the team’s points on a nightly basis, but coach Terry Stotts is still searching someone who is ready to step up and help. Jusuf Nurkic is part of the puzzle, but the Blazers need more consistency from the other 12 players on the roster.

BETTING LINE:
Blazers by 12

MATCHUP TO WATCH:
De’Aaron Fox vs. Damian Lillard -- Fox put on a defensive show against Portland at Golden 1 Center. The rookie came into the league with high-end potential as a two-way player and he showed it against Lillard, holding the All-Star point guard to 29 points, but on 9-of-25 shooting. Lillard loves to hoist up shots. If Fox can't provide the same pressure, the Kings will struggle to keep up with the Blazers.

WHERE THEY STAND
Kings: 4-11, fifth place in Pacific

Trail Blazers: 8-7, third place in Northwest

INJURY REPORT:
Kings: SG Buddy Hield (sprained ankle) out, F Vince Carter (kidney stones) out, PF Harry Giles (bilateral knee rehab) out until January.

Trail Blazers: F Al Farouq Aminu (ankle) out, G C.J. Wilcox (knee) out, PG Wade Baldwin (thumb) out.

THREE THINGS TO WATCH:
CONSISTENCY -- You can’t show flashes of brilliance and then take a step back. The Kings defensive effort and overall intensity won the game on Friday night. It’s a place to build from.

FINDING A ROLE -- Joerger shook up everything when he turned to Fox and Labissiere. Offensively, both players struggled, as did Bogdanovic off the bench. This group of young players needs to find a role and figure out a way to help the team, even when the shots aren’t falling.

GET DEFENSIVE -- Portland didn’t know what hit them Friday evening, but they’ll have a few hours to make adjustments. Sacramento’s bigs showed on every high screen and roll. The guard and wing play was aggressive and spot on. The Kings are young and energetic. If they can focus that energy on the defensive end night in and night out, they might have a chance to build something.

SERIES HISTORY:
Sacramento leads the season series 1-0 after Friday night’s win. The Blazers lead the all-time series 129-78 and they own the Kings during the Sacramento-era 88-47.

QUOTE:
"Whether you think the sky is falling or not, we are 3-3 in our last 6 games." - Dave Joerger

Joerger shakes things up, Cauley-Stein responds with big game

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USATSI

Joerger shakes things up, Cauley-Stein responds with big game

SACRAMENTO -- Faced with demotion, you have two options, sulk or come out swinging. Willie Cauley-Stein chose option two Friday evening at Golden 1 Center.

After starting all 14 games to begin the season, Cauley-Stein found himself relegated to the second unit against the Portland Trail Blazers. The 7-footer looked energized by the move and made one play after another as the Kings came away with the 86-82 victory.

“I felt free - period,” Cauley-Stein said following the win. “Both offensively, defensively. I’m quarterbacking on defense. I’m getting to make plays on offense. I just feel liberated. I feel like it’s unlocking.”

The third-year big began the 2017-18 campaign with back-to-back double-doubles, but hadn’t notched double-figures in rebounds since. Over his previous eight games, the Kings’ starting center was averaging just 4.3 boards per game.

Against Portland, Cauley-Stein played sparkling defense, hit 9-of-17 from the floor for a team-high 22 points and hit the glass for 10 boards. He skied above the Blazers bigs for a rebound with 3.4 seconds remaining and his second free throw attempt sealed the win for a Kings team in desperate need of a win.

“Willie’s a hell of a player, obviously,” veteran big Kosta Koufos said. “He’s really athletic, he’s a special talent.”

Koufos and Cauley-Stein made a devastating defensive duo for Sacramento. Both bigs showed on the high pick-and-roll and avoided fouling the Blazers high-powered guards.

“That’s a crazy defensive lineup right there, me and Kosta play really well together,” Cauley-Stein said. “I’ve been waiting for that lineup since we started.”

Damian Lillard scored 29 points, but he shot just 9-of-25 from the field and 5-for-14 from long range. C.J. McCollum knocked down 8-of-15 from the floor, but he missed all four of his 3-point attempts as Sacramento closed out and pressured the shooter all night long.

Cauley-Stein wasn’t the only starter to find himself on the bench to start the game. Dave Joerger turned to a dual point guard backcourt, using De’Aaron Fox and George Hill side-by-side, while bringing rookie Bogdan Bogdanovic in with the second unit.

Playing off the ball for long stretches, Hill responded to the move with 14 points and five assists in 27 minutes. Fox had a quiet offensive night, but his defense on both Lillard and McCollum was inspired.

“We can both attack and he’s a great shooter so that really helps me,” Fox said of Hill. “He’s a mentor on the court. It’s a lot easier to play with him then to watch him play.”

Sacramento held Portland to just 37 percent shooting overall and 28 percent from behind the arc. They pressured the Blazers in the backcourt and slowed the game to screeching halt.

With the win, the Kings snapped their three-game losing streak and improved to 4-11 on the season. They jumped a plane for Portland following the game where they’ll face the same Trail Blazer team Saturday in a rare back-to-back against the same team.

The Kings likely be without the services of shooting guard Buddy Hield, who left the game in the fourth quarter with a sprained right ankle. Hield limped into the locker room on crutches following the victory and the initial indications point to him missing the rematch.