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Since Keith Smart took over coaching duties last month, the Kings have had very little practice time and never had everyone on the roster available for a game.
Things changed this week when the Kings were able to get more time in between games to work on their new game plans. Add that to a healthy Marcus Thornton returning to the lineup and, wham-o!, a team with real possibilities has emerged.
After being down at the half by nine and being throttled by LaMarcus Aldridge the entire time (19 points on 9-of-11 shooting with five rebounds), Smart changed up his formula in guarding the Blazers standout forward which led to a terrific third quarter as the Kings held on the beat the pesky Portland Trailblazers 95-92 on Thursday evening at Power Balance Pavilion.
The Kings came out hustling, but some dumb fouls on the defensive end turned into easy points for the Blazers.
DeMarcus Cousins looked good early but got into foul trouble quickly and didn’t play most of the first quarter.
Aldridge has a great jump shot from inside the circle and put his skills on display early in this one. It didn’t matter who was matched up defensively against him. The way Portland was moving the ball around the court kept Kings players constantly chasing the ball, and Aldridge found himself more open than not for most of the half.
The lone bright spot in the first half for the home team was the ice-cold-as-of-late John Salmons. Salmons had 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting that included two three-point bombs.
The wheels almost fell off in the second quarter as a bad mix of players had several defensive breakdowns. With J.J. Hickson, Isaiah Thomas, Travis Outlaw, Thornton and Chuck Hayes on the floor, it seemed that there wasn’t enough leadership or offensive firepower to keep up with Portland.
Smart noticed in time and stopped the bleeding by putting Cousins, Tyreke Evans and Jason Thompson back in the game with about 6:40 left in the second. Down by nine, that adjustment was enough to get Sacramento within three, until several Kings misses let the Blazers get the nine-point lead back before the buzzer.
The Kings scored six straight points as Evans and Cousins came out aggressive to open the third, until Cousins picked up two quick fouls that sent him to the pine early again.
With Cousins on the bench, it was time for Thompson to step up, and he did.
Thompson is having his best year to date and is a real force inside now for the Kings. Thompson finished with 13 points and 12 boards and was very active on the defensive end.
Thompson is fully aware of his improved play but doesn’t see it as a surprise. The way he tells it, if he didn’t have four different coaches in his four campaigns, things may be a little different for the man from Rider.
“It’s tough,” Thompson said after the contest. “Four different systems, and every coach wanted something differently out of me. For me, to keep my head and always staying ready for the future and being positive, then things can work out well.”
Good for J.T.! When you break it down, he’s been the most consistent player so far this season.
Once Evans slammed a ball home to tie the game at 63-63 late in the third, you could feel the momentum change. It seems that every time you just give the hometown faithful some hope, they jump out of their collective seats to show their support.
Thursday was no different.
The fans, who sat on their hands until this point, went crazy when Portland called a timeout to collect themselves.
When Salmons open the final stanza with a three, the fans stayed in the game the rest of the way.
Like the fans, Salmons has been waiting for his game to come around. Thursday, he had his best game of the season.
“It definitely feels good to hit shots,” he said. “When you’re not hitting shots like you’re supposed to, you get frustrated. I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t frustrated. You just have to stick with it, keep going and try to continue to believe and keep working hard.”
The final moments saw rookie guard Isaiah Thomas get a jaw-dropping block and the Blazers miss two game-tying three-pointers.
Thornton had 20 in his return from a deep thigh contusion and said it’s hard to sit on the bench when you want to contribute so badly.
“It was very, very frustrating knowing I couldn’t get out there and help my team do anything,” he said. “It made me realize that me without basketball, I’m basically dead. Basketball is my life and has been my life since I was little, so I was just so happy to be out there with my teammates.”
KINGS NOTES: Evans had another solid all-around game with 18 points, five boards, five assists . . . Jimmer Fredette, Francisco Garcia and Donte Greene all had DNP-CDs (did not play - coach’s decision) . . . Chuck Hayes said he’s still being careful with his shoulder as any type of collision could dislocate it again . . . Former King Gerald Wallace was held in check and had only eight points and three boards.
PHOTOS COURTESY OF:
Darren Hall at www.darrenhallphotography.net/