The Sacramento Kings are proving to be a resilient bunch. With two starters nursing injuries and their coach ejected in the second quarter, the team pulled together admirably. In a total team-wide effort where every member of the team seemingly played its part, the Kings handed the New Orleans Pelicans a home loss reminiscent of the blow the Pelicans dealt to the Kings just a week ago by a score of 99-89.
The Kings were led by DeMarcus Cousins, who was his usual sublime self. Although the return of Omer Asik made it more difficult for Cousins in the paint, Boogie still managed blow up the Pelicans with 22 points, 15 rebounds and 5 assists. Most importantly, Cousins avoided foul trouble and played 35 total minutes. Cousins was joined by the relentless Omri Casspi, who started in the place of the injured Rudy Gay. Casspi is the Kings' honey badger, giving not a damn who he was taking to the rack, including the Pelicans' shotblocking savant Anthony Davis. Omri moves so well without the ball and the Kings' offense is especially conducive to finding him in motion off of cuts and curls, giving Casspi a straight line to the rim where he is often able to finish because of his craftiness.
Several players contributed in many key areas. Jason Thompson played marvelous defense against Davis, who struggled to find a rhythm all game. Thompson was in Davis' chest all game, forcing him out onto the perimeter using his strength advantage, using his size to harass the lob passing lanes Davis usually thrives on, and blocking Davis off from being a menace on the glass. Davis finished with only 14 points on 4/12 shooting. Ramon Sessions shrugged off a sluggish start to help break down the Pelicans defense opportunistically down the stretch, including hitting a big three pointer to put the Kings up 14 with 3 minutes to go. Sessions ended with 15 points and 6 assists on 4/13 shooting.
In what has become a recurring theme on the road, the Kings started off hot out of the gates. Ben McLemore was on fire, scoring all 10 of his points in the first half. Cousins was offline with his jumper, but did enough work in the interior to scrap out 8 points, 4 boards and 2 assists. The Kings defense stifled the Pelicans, including their superstar Davis, and raced out to an early 14 point lead. Unfortunately, as it has for most of the season, the bench really let the team down. To be fair, a small lineup featuring Carl Landry at center isn't exactly a formula for sustained success, but regardless the bench failed to score at a decent enough clip to make up for the lack of rebounding.
There were several questionable coaching decisions that exacerbated the situation as well. Michael Malone was ejected with two quick techs after saying the magic word, McLemore didn't see the court until the very end of the quarter, and Ramon Sessions (who was playing terrible) got the nod down the stretch over Ray McCallum (who was the only bench player to play well). The result was elimination of whatever lead the Kings had left and the team went into the locker room tied at 48.
The second half began with a criminal case of Boogiecide. Cousins scored 8 points in the quarter, displaying his shooting touch from the perimeter and impeccable footwork in the paint. Casspi also came alive, running the break like a gazelle and attacking the paint with reckless abandon. Behind the Casspi/Cousins duo, the Kings built an eight point lead that the bench was then tasked to protect. This time, McCallum and Nik Stauskas stepped up, hitting big shots to help keep the Pelicans at bay. Both McCallum and Stauskas had their best outings of the year, scoring 12 and 9 points respectively. The Kings' defense off the bench was also helped by Thompson's presence on the court. His defense and rebounding boosted a bench unit that was having trouble with the size of the Pelicans' reserves. When Cousins came back in to finish the game, the Kings still had an 8 point cushion to work with. The defense clamped down again and the Kings were able to extend the lead up to 14 points before settling into the final margin of 10.
The Kings did have trouble bottling up Tyreke Evans and Ryan Anderson. Evans scored 22 points, 7 rebounds and 5 assists, getting to the rim seemingly at will. Unfortunately for 'Reke, he had a costly turnover down the stretch when he left his feet, essentially slamming the door on any Pelicans comeback. As for Anderson, the Kings have had a miserable time defending stretch power forwards all year long. Anderson came in and continued the trend, scoring 20 points, including 3/7 from three point range. However, in a promising development, Casspi was able to keep Anderson from being a factor down the stretch. Perhaps that might be the key for the Kings in defending sweet stroking 4s in the future.
Next on the Kings' plate is a Houston Rockets squad sporting one of the top records in the league. After that is finishing off the road trip in San Antonio, and December is smelling rosy with an easier, home-heavy schedule. The Kings improved to 9-5 on the year, shredding one of the most difficult schedules in the NBA thus far. Its a good time to be a Kings fan.
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