It wasn't the prettiest win the Kings could have had, and it was highlighted with inconsistency on both ends of the court, but Saturday's 97-91 win against the Orlando Magic was a welcome sight for a Sacramento squad desperate for their first road win.
DeMarcus Cousins returned after his one-game suspension to lead the team with 29 points, 12 rebounds and six assists, and Rajon Rondo added 13 points, nine assists and seven rebounds. Tobias Harris led the Magic with 24 points, and Evan Fournier had 17 points but shot just 7-20 from the field.
Even with Rudy Gay sidelined with a shoulder injury, George Karl clamped down on the rotation and went with only eight players in the contest. The Kings bench—which consisted of Omri Casspi, Kosta Koufos, and Marco Belinelli—combined for 36 points and 18 rebounds.
The Kings shot a combined 38.3% from the field, and struggled to find any offensive consistency outside a beautiful run in the third quarter. Down 65-61 with 5:03 in the period, the Kings used a 22-2 run to take a 83-67 lead into the fourth. That five minute run was one of the best offensive stretches that Sacramento has had this season, and it was led by excellent passing that produced seven assists on eight made baskets.
The Kings excellent ball-movement didn't continue into the fourth, and the Magic managed to cut the lead down to 87-80 with six minutes left, but a controversial offensive foul on Evan Fournier led to a technical foul on Fournier and brought the Orlando run to a halt. An alley-oop from Rondo to Cousins with 3:25 left brought the Kings advantage to 93-84, and the Magic never really threatened afterwards.
Karl opted for a three guard lineup against the athletic Magic, as Rondo, Darren Collison, and Ben McLemore started alongside Cousins and Willie Cauley-Stein. McLemore and Collison both had poor shooting nights; McLemore had eight points and four turnovers on 3-12 shooting and Collison had nine points and four turnovers on 2-11 shooting. Thankfully for the Kings, Orlando's young guard combo of Victor Oladipo and Elfrid Payton were equally infective, combing for just 18 points on 7-23 shooting.
The Kings continue their five-game road trip with a matchup against the Charlotte Hornets (7-6) on Monday, and then will head to Milwaukee to face the Bucks (5-7) on Wednesday.
For the rival's perspective, check out Orlando Pinstriped Post.
- Ben McLemore had an up-and-down game. On defense, he rotated between guarding Payton, Oladipo, and Fournier, and considering how different each of their offensive skillsets are, McLemore did a great job of staying with each. His offense, however, continues to be inconsistent; he had a number of good looks that didn't fall. He's looking more comfortable moving the ball on offense, but that hasn't translated into consistent shooting success.
- Speaking of inconsistent, the referees were especially so, and both George Karl and Orlando's Scott Skiles (who picked up a technical in the first quarter, and should have had multiple more in the third) were rightfully displeased. The refs never seemed to come to any collective understanding of how hard contact needed to be to warrant a call, with a large number of ticky-tack fouls being called and an equal number of obvious-looking fouls getting ignored.
- Cauley-Stein may have gotten the start, but despite Karl saying he was looking for ways to get Willie more minutes, the rookie recorded only 17 minutes of action on Saturday. Koufos held his own against the Magic's front line, but one would have hoped a team like Orlando—young, athletic, and speedy—would have presented a bigger opportunity for Cauley-Stein. When he did play, Cauley-Stein was his usual defensive self, although he did have an inordinate number of bad-looking post possession on offense. He finished with two points, five boards and two blocks on 1-5 shooting.