With Kevin Martin and Spencer Hawes sidelined, you'd figure that New Orleans' ploy to stop the Kings by focusing its defense on Tyreke Evans would be smart. But then, you did not count on Sergio Rodriguez.
Rodriguez had a phenomenal effort off the bench, scoring 24 points in 24 minutes, shooting 9-14 from the floor and adding five assists (several of them spectacular) with zero turnovers. Beno Udrih, coming off the bench behind Donte Greene again, had played well in his early minutes (13 points on 5-5 shooting with three steals), but took a 'Reke knee to the head in some sort of weird Shaolin Space Ninja defensive move Evans decided to try out. Sergio stepped right in and blew up the Hornets defense, getting to the rim at will and adjusting to looming shotblockers with some beautiful passes.
Jason Thompson, meanwhile, did what Jason Thompson do. That might seem like something Reggie Miller would say, but damn, I'm sorry, J.T. did exactly what you expect from him: rebounded like a hyperactive Tyrannosaurus Rex and scored on a variety of clever moves around the rim. When Spencer Hawes showed up in a suit, you knew how vital Thompson would be for the Kings to be successful in an evenly matched game. J.T. delivered exactly what the Kings needed.
Everyone did, really. Every single King who got on the floor made a positive contribution, which is rare even among the deepest teams. Evans, though limited offensively, hit some key shots, made fairly good decisions overall, and played solid defense. (He actually took David West for a few possessions, and did better than anyone else had.) Greene played short minutes again (due to excellent performances from Sergio and Beno), but still managed to eek off seven points, three rebounds, three assists (two of them memorable), a steal and a block. Jon Brockman was a maniac, diving for a loose ball with a double-digit lead in the closing minutes. Andres Nocioni hit three big threes, Kenny Thomas (who started for the first time since 1983, it's true, look it up) did his best to limit West and Emeka Okafor (with limited success, admittedly). Omri Casspi continues to more resemble a Bond villain than a basketball player, except whereas a Bond villain eventually succumbs to savvy power of Britain's top special agent, Casspi hits dagger turnaround jumpers in the lane. (Otherwise, very similar.)
It's been written endlessly through the month, but really, this team has amazing spirit. We first saw it manifest in New Orleans, actually, when the team pulled together to rally a near-win on the opening road trip. We saw it again against Memphis in the team's first win, and against Atlanta, with Martin playing like an MVP. And in Utah, and against the Warriors ... and in almost every game since. (I'll list the second Memphis game as the exception -- the energy was good if ineffective against Chicago.) More smiles have been executed in ARCO Arena in nine games than in all 41 last year.
A season ago, the team earned its eighth win on December 30. Five teams have better home records than the Kings right now (Suns, Lakers, Spurs, Nuggets, Hawks). Tyreke "Not a Real Point Guard" Evans has this offense ranked No. 6 in the league. The turnaround has just been unbelievable. And yes, it's going to get old, but every win reaffirms it as truth.