Energy.

That’s what’s been missing from the Sacramento Kings, Arco Arena, and the Kings fans over the past two years.

They’ve been missing energy.

In this new era of Kings basketball, there have been more question marks and concerns than concrete reasons for hope. That’s how it is when a franchise decides to rebuild and has to gut the team of top quality talent. You lose the ability to win most nights and in doing so can suck the energy right out of the atmosphere. And it isn’t a dig against the fans or the players. It just happens. It leaves everybody involved clamoring for a reason to get that energy and give it off to create a raucous environment. There’s a desperation of hope that comes with it and a constant building of inner anguish that needs to be released in a genuine manner.

So when Omri Casspi found Kevin Martin for a three in the second quarter and it went through the rim to give the Kings a 40-37 lead, the energy in the building exploded. It was a feeling that really hadn’t been in the building in years. There had been plenty of attempts to manufacture it under reigns of Musselman, Theus and Natt but it was never completely genuine.

Last night, it was genuine.

The Kings crowd was not full capacity (despite the sellout) but it might as well have been with the level of noise that emanated from the fans.

The Kings got down by 14 early and looked to be headed to another embarrassing loss like what happened in the OKC game. His sprained ankle hobbled Tyreke Evans and it showed in his play. His defense was still solid because he was going against Mike Conley and Mike Conley is very guardable. But his offense suffered immensely in the first half. Evans didn’t have his usual burst of speed off of his first step. He couldn’t move properly and it completely bogged down the Kings offense. The spacing was terrible, there wasn’t much progressive movement towards creating baskets and it often looked like the players on the floor were more rec league than NBA squad.

Coach Westphal subbed in some energy guys in Spencer Hawes, Beno Udrih, and Omri Casspi to get the offense flowing and the team active and it paid off in huge dividends.

Westphal said that the crowd showing up was big for the team early on and that they didn’t “show their appreciation in the first nine minutes of the game.” But the team kept fighting. Last year, they would have laid down, taken their beating, and go home with their heads down. But not with this young, determined team. They wanted to prove they could win this game.

I’ve been fairly hard on Spencer Hawes through the first two games of the regular season. He was soft and he showed that he didn’t deserve to start for the Kings at the moment. But he fought against a tough San Antonio front line in the third loss of the season and came into the home opener ready to play. He was quite often the best player on the floor and that was on a night in which Kevin Martin dropped 48 points on 27 minutes.

Westphal said, “(Spencer) showed why everyone thinks he can be such a good player. But it wasn’t his skill, it was his heart that showed tonight.”

Spencer finished the game with 21 points, 11 rebounds, seven assists, and two blocks but that doesn’t explain how good and important he was. His energy was through the roof. He relished in every team success and looked to help correct every mistake made. When Kevin Martin hit a three, when Beno Udrih threaded the needle for an assist or when Omri Casspi was making plays and dunking the basketball, Spencer Hawes was running back up the floor, cheering for his teammates and looking like he was so excited he was going to jump out of his skin. THAT is the Spencer Hawes this team needs to step up every night and over the past two games, that’s who has been there off the bench.

If he didn’t earn his starting spot tonight (whether there are concerns about what to do when foul trouble comes up or not), then I don’t think they should have a starting center. They should just start the game with four until they bring Spencer off the bench.

And for Beno Udrih, this was a nice moment of redemption. He has embraced the role of backup point guard while they try to figure out how well Tyreke Evans can play that role. He’s been much maligned over the past year and with good reason. But tonight, he came into a game in which ‘Reke couldn’t really be effective due to injury and Beno played perfectly with Spencer Hawes in the two-man game. In executing in the final three minutes, it reminded me of Bibby and Webber trying to win games – especially on the final play of regulation.

And finally (for tonight), there was Kevin Martin. He kept this team in the game for the entire first half and helped put them in a position to win the game in the final 29 minutes of the game. He played 52 minutes in this game and was sharp for all of them. He robbed himself of a 50-point game by missing five of his 18 free throw attempts but that was the only aspect of his game in which he performed poorly.

The Kings won this game tonight. They didn’t get it handed to them by Memphis in any way. They flat out won it on a night in which they were hammered on the boards and gave up 20 offensive rebounds. That was a great way to kick off the 41 home games this year.

More analysis to come tomorrow.

Beno/Spencer photo from (AP Photo/Steve Yeater)