Keith Smart can be pretty secretive when it comes to strategy. It’s likely that we won’t know who starts the season opener for the Sacramento Kings against the Chicago Bulls until the lineup cards are passed out before tip-off this Wednesday.
But one player, who’s unquestionably guaranteed a spot in the Kings’ starting five, has his own guesses about who does.
DeMarcus Cousins started in each of the Kings’ seven preseason games. He believes he’ll take the United Center floor with the lineup that opened their preseason finale against the Los Angeles Lakers.
“I believe we found the one, which is the last group (from the last game),” Cousins told media following Friday practice.
After Monday’s exhibition loss to the Phoenix Suns, coach Smart said his opening night starters would be unveiled in the preseason finale against Los Angeles. However, the Kings head coach backpedaled on that statement following practice Wednesday.
Cousins, though, seems confident that the four men who started alongside him Thursday will be the same four that start with him Halloween.
“I believe James is now in our starting group,” Cousins said. “So I believe Thomas (Robinson) and Marcus (Thornton) coming in together will bring that spark that we need (off the bench), so hopefully that goes well.”
If Cousins’ hunch holds true, Thornton, the Kings’ leading scorer last season, would anchor a second-unit attack featuring this year’s fifth overall pick and veterans Aaron Brooks and Chuck Hayes. Jimmer Fredette, Francisco Garcia, Travis Outlaw and John Salmons seem likely round out the Kings’ third team.
No matter who starts, Cousins knows he must be consistent and in top form this upcoming season.
“I’m going to have to play my game and do my job on a nightly basis,” the 22-year-old big man said. “So I can’t be really concerned with what the lineup is.”
Defense, not offense, has been the Kings’ focus as they head into a new year. Keith Smart has been pleased with their overall effort in the preseason and players agree that they’ve made strides from last year.
“I think we all talked as a team,” said Kings swingman Tyreke Evans of their communication on the defensive end this preseason. “And we’ll just worry more about defense than offense this year.”
Thomas Robinson has been a part of the culture change on defense. Teammates have raved about the rookie power forward’s high motor, which has been a welcome addition to a team ranked second to last in defensive rating last season.
“We got out and ran the floor,” said Robinson about the team’s overall progress on defense. “And we learned a new offense (too), so that was still a learning process.”
DeMarcus Cousins arrived to training camp in arguably the best shape of his career. His play during the preseason seems to suggest he’s already in regular season form.
“Honestly, I wish we could have just skipped preseason,” said Cousins. “I was ready to get things started soon as things kicked back.
“But it’s part of it,” Cousins continued. “I feel like it helped us to become a better team.”
Meaningless now, the Kings did finish the preseason with a 5-2 record.
Of their five preseason wins, three of them came against the Los Angeles Lakers. The Kings saw the new-look Lakers at full strength in just one of those games, so was there anything meaningful they took away that could help in the regular season?
“Not really,” said Tyreke Evans. “They’re still getting a feel for each other. I think their starting five is going to be good for them.”
Kobe Bryant sat out Thursday’s defeat with a bruised foot. Meanwhile, newcomer Dwight Howard played in just two of the Lakers’ eight preseason contests since he was recovering from back surgery. When healthy, the Lakeshow will feature a starting five that combines for 33 All-Star appearances between them.
“When (Kobe) gets back and gets ready for the regular season, I don’t think they’ll be 0-2 or 0-3 to start the season,” Evans said. “I think they’ll be pretty good.”
Los Angeles went a winless 0-8 in their exhibition schedule.