Kings' Starting Five Changes Despite Early Leads

Paul Westphal has again altered his starting line-up. The Sacramento Kings will feature their 11th starting five in the 28th game of the season, with Francisco Garcia replacing Donte Greene. Carl Landry and Samuel Dalembert replaced Darnell Jackson and DeMarcus Cousins for last Thursday's game against the Bucks when the latter, Cousins, stubbed his professionalism in last week's debacletastrophe against the Warriors. (Jackson and Dalembert together isn't really a suitable frontline, as Westphal obviously recognized.)

What's forgotten is that the starting five that featured Cousins, Jason Thompson (in all but the last three games), Greene, Beno Udrih and in all but one game Tyreke Evans was pretty wildly successful in first quarters throughout December.

Westphal pulled Cousins from the starting five as a disciplinary measure for taunting Reggie Williams. To that point, Cousins had started nine consecutive games, eight of them losses. Surely that'd be reason enough for a change ... had the Kings not typically dominated the first quarters of those games.

The following table shows Sacramento's scoring margin (Kings points' minus opponents' points) in the first quarter of those eight losses and in the rest of the game. Take a look. ("Vs" indicates the game was at ARCO Arena; "at" means the Kings played on the road.)

Opponent

1st Quarter

Rest of Game

vs Mavericks

+9

-11

at Clippers

+4

-11

vs Heat

+7

-28

at Rockets

+3

-16

at Hornets

+6

-9

at Thunder

+1

-16

vs Rockets

+5

-14

vs Warriors

-8

+0

In seven of those eight losses with Cousins in the starting five, the Kings had a lead at the end of the first quarter, with the weirdo Warriors game the only exception. (Cousins was pretty bad all over that game.) The Cousins-led Kings had a nine-point lead over the excellent Dallas Mavericks after a quarter on Dec. 4. The Kings outscored the Miami Heat by seven in the first quarter of that game. And so on. The starting line-up early in these games was certainly not the problem.

Cousins has been far less effective in his 13 games off the bench. In 14 games as a starter, Cousins shoots better, scores more, rebounds more and, despite suggestions playing against back-up bigs would help rein in DMC's foul rate and allow him to play more, the big man actually plays more when he starts. (That shouldn't be terribly surprising.) The team has played better in Cousins' starts, too: the Kings are 4-10 when Cousins starts and 1-12 when he comes off the bench. Sacramento's bad either way, but especially bad when Cousins isn't playing as much.

But it's clear that Westphal is not keen to re-insert Cousins, especially after another "issue" between the two at the end of the loss to the Bucks. Instead of giving Thompson his starting spot back, which would have paired J.T. with another non-featured scorer in Dalembert, Westphal is sticking with Landry and instead replacing Greene. Whether that will help the team's performance in the second, third and especially fourth quarters remains to be seen.

What is known is that during the latest rough stretch, the Kings have begun games just fine. How Sacramento starts the game has not defined the Kings' performance, and it's hard to see how tinkering who begins the first quarter will fix the glaring problems that pop up in the fourth.

All data via Basketball-Reference.com.

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