There's no question that the Kings haven't gotten off to as good of a start as either they or the fanbase would have liked. Given a home heavy early schedule, Sacramento was supposed to take advantage before the road trips began. Instead, the Kings stumbled out of the gates to a 2-7 start before playing Phoenix twice this week. Over that time the Kings experimented with multiple starting lineups and rotation changes.
Now, it seems as if Sacramento has found something it can stick with. The play of the starting lineup this season has been pretty bad aside from DeMarcus Cousins and Greivis Vasquez, but last night everyone found a way to contribute. It was probably Sacramento's most complete game of the season, even over the blowout win against the Brooklyn Nets.
This game was not really as close as it appeared. The Suns kept it respectable for most of the first half of the game because of the play of Goran Dragic and the hot shooting of Gerald Green, but once the second half began, Sacramento took over. Sacramento pushed a five point halftime lead to 20 points by the fourth quarter, and it was only a barrage of late threes by Phoenix that tightened the gap a little bit.
DeMarcus Cousins played through a hurt shoulder and watched his shooting suffer because of it, going just 4-14 from the field. However he didn't let that faze him and he still made a big contribution by being physical and getting to the line, where he hit 11-15 attempts. He didn't shy away from contact despite his injury, which was good to see. He was also on point with his help defense. Cousins has definitely taken positive steps to being a true leader for this team, and it was a joy to watch him in the fourth quarter cheering his teammates from the bench.
Recently elevated starting Small Forward Luc Mbah a Moute had his best game as a King with 11 points, 2 rebounds ,3 assists, a steal and two blocks. Mbah a Moute was assigned Green for most of the second half, where he held him to just 3 points, compared to the 20 he scored in the first half. Rookie Ben McLemore wasn't able to knock down any of his threes, but still had 8 points on 3-7 shooting to go with 5 rebounds. Jason Thompson caught fire in the second half, hitting three jumpers in the row to help create separation between both teams. He finished with 10 points and 3 rebounds in 19 minutes.
Sacramento's bench played a good game as well, led by Isaiah Thomas' 23 points. Thomas is now averaging 18.4 points on an excellent .609 TS%. He continues to lead all bench players in the NBA in scoring. He's also averaging more minutes played than Greivis Vasquez, the starter. Vasquez's defense continues to be worrisome, but his passing has been getting better, as he added 6 more assists to just 1 turnover tonight.
Jimmer Fredette once again played in the rotation over Marcus Thornton. Coach Malone seems intent on giving Jimmer a real chance to prove himself, and after a rough shooting night in Sacramento, Jimmer bounced back to score 8 points on 3-6 shooting, including both of his threes. Fredette also played solid defense and did a good job moving the ball. Marcus Thornton has now received two DNP-CDs in a row, and if Fredette continues to be reliable each and every night, I think that trend will continue.
Another big positive for Sacramento is that they were able to fix some of their mistakes from the previous game against the Suns. After turning the ball over 19 times in Sacramento, they cut that down to just 10 in Phoenix. This also helped cut down Phoenix's fast break opportunities.
The Suns are not a particularly great team, especially without Eric Bledsoe, but it was good to see the Kings take advantage of their lack of depth. In so doing, they've hopefully added some confidence as they head to Los Angeles to face the much tougher Clippers and Lakers. The Kings are not yet a good team, and probably won't be considered a good team by the end of this year. But they're a better team than the one they showed through the first nine games, and I think we saw signs of progress in these last two wins.
- Miles Plumlee is a real find by Phoenix. He's big, athletic, and he's got good fundamentals on both ends. If he can learn to hit a little 10-15 foot jumper, he'll be even more valuable.
- Has Travis Outlaw officially rediscovered his shooting stroke? He's now shooting 48.9% from the field and 50% from downtown (on just 14 attempts though). He's 3rd on the team in PER at 19.3. He's also rebounding the ball at the same rate as a Power Forward, with a DRB% of 20.7%. Travis is playing legitimately awesome right now and I hope it keeps up.
- I hate continuing to rag on Salmons, who did play well on defense tonight, but must he keep shooting? He was just 2-7 from the floor tonight, and on a couple of his attempts he had wide open shooters available that he could have passed to.
- Gerald Green is absolutely scorching from three point range this season. He's hit 30 of 64 threes (46.9%).
- StR commenter LTrain5 was featured prominently on the Kings broadcast repping her Isaiah jersey.