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Kings 133, Mavs 111: Willie's World

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Kimani Okearah

The Sacramento Kings dismantled the fighting-for-a-playoff-spot Dallas Mavericks tonight in a game that only highlighted how open the bottom half of the Western Conference playoff race has been all season. If only the Kings could have played competent basketball this year, they had the health and talent to really make a run at the playoffs.

The Kings are playing what I would describe as care free basketball, and while that term can be attached to high turnover, poor effort basketball, the Kings are playing with a freedom, and a confidence we haven’t seen in a while.

I know all of that sounds kind of dumb and ambiguous, but the best evidence I can give for it is DeMarcus Cousins’ demeanor. His team is terrible, they missed the playoffs again, he’s getting killed by the media, about 50% of his cities fan base wants to trade him, and he’s cruised through the last two games with a smile on his face. Figure that one out?

Willie Cauley-Stein is out there attempting post moves and turnaround jumpers! While I wouldn’t necessarily clamor for more of those, it also speaks to the confidence, and weightlessness the Kings are playing with.

Seth Curry’s since-deleted emoji snake tweets, and George Karl’s continued media barrage against his own players suggest that everything isn’t perfect in the Kings locker room, so I’m not sure what triggered this little team-wide attitude shift. Have they tuned Karl out to the point where they know his words hold no weight? Has Karl lightened up despite the media posturing? Is it just a overall weight lifted off their shoulders because they know the playoffs are out of reach, and the pressure is off? I don’t know, but none of those answers would make me feel particularly great.

At any rate, the Kings are playing pretty good basketball right now. Rajon Rondo had another good defense-carving performance, notching 11 assists and just two turnovers. He's really seeing the court well.

Willie Cauley-Stein was excellent off the bench, again, making Karl’s decision to limit him earlier in the season when the Kings had an outside shot at making the playoffs even more disheartening.

It was hard to miss Cauley-Stein’s college career considering he played for one of the best college programs, and he did it for three years. Having watched a fair amount of Kentucky basketball while Willie was there, I can honestly say that I’ve never seen him play with this much offensive confidence.

His back-to-back offensive explosions have been extremely fun to watch, and while he is stepping out of his lob-heavy comfort zone, I’d be lying if his heat checking weren’t making me the slightest bit nervous. SLIGHTEST. He made that aforementioned turnaround step back post jumper, and while it went it, I never want to see it again!

I don’t want to take anything away from him, though. He’s been incredible over the last two games. It’s been extremely fun watching him gain that confidence, try new things, all while his team is supporting him 100% of the time. The relationship both Rajon Rondo and DeMarcus Cousins have built with Cauley-Stein is worth something. I don’t know what, but it’s been a positive development this season.

Seth Curry got his second consecutive start, and I thought he had much better, steadier contributions than he had in his last start against Phoenix. This is cliché and dumb, but he just makes good basketball plays. His pre-assist passes usually make it to the right spot, he keeps the defense moving, and I think he’s had a much easier time finding in-rhythm shots within the Kings’ offense than either McLemore, who is still very passive, and Belinelli, who’s shot selection would drive anyone crazy. It’s early with Seth, small sample size caveat is very much in order here, but it’s been interesting, if not fun, to see him out there playing heavier minutes.

DeMarcus Cousins demolished the Mavericks frontcourt. Dallas started Salah Mejri opposite DeMarcus Cousins, and I was SO close to tweeting something along the lines of ‘If I know anything about Kings basketball, Salah Mejri is about to tally career highs in multiple categories’. Cousins ate him alive (figuratively) and he was never a factor, so kudos to the Kings for not living up to their history by having an opponent’s 12th man burn them for 30.

I now realize I spent most of this recap talking about individual performances instead of the actual game, but the Kings’ dominance actually made the game kind of uneventful. Every time the Mavericks would tease a run, the Kings fired back. They won handily.

Because I feel like I’ve been too positive over the last two recaps, the Kings still stink, and this summer is going to take 10-15 years off of every one of our lives. Ah, that feels better.

Happy Easter!