CK Press Box Report: Sacramento Kings 108, Portland Trail Blazers 96

by Jonathan Santiago & James Ham

Playing without their two leading scorers, the Sacramento Kings fought off a sluggish start to beat the visiting Portland Trail Blazers 108-96 at Sleep Train Arena.  DeMarcus Cousins sat out this evening’s game due to suspension, while Tyreke Evans missed another contest to injury.  The victory ended the Blazers five-game winning streak, which began after Portland lost to Sacramento two weeks ago.  The victory moves the Kings to 9-18 overall and 8-7 at home.

Notes and Analysis

  • This is Thornton’s third game back after missing four straight while tending to his mother in Baton Rouge and he is starting to find his game.  After leading the Kings in scoring last season at nearly 19 points per game, Thornton came into tonight’s contest averaging just 13.5 points on 41-percent shooting.  With DeMarcus Cousins and Tyreke Evans missing the game, Thornton was able to elevate his play, finishing with 22 points on 10-for-18 shooting.
  • Travis Outlaw really gets up to play his former team.  For the second time this season, Outlaw blew up against the team that dealt him to the Clippers two seasons ago.  Tonight he finished with 15 points on 6-for-7 shooting in 16 minutes off the bench.
  • When John Salmons scores in double-figures, the Kings win.  At least they have in five out of six games that the veteran wing reaches the double-digit plateau.  Tonight, Salmons finished with 15 points, seven assists and seven rebounds.  Low and behold, the Kings won.
  • James Johnson started the first nine games of the season for the Kings at small forward and in all honesty, it was a disaster.  With Cousins missing the game, Keith Smart gave Johnson a try at power forward and the defensive specialist responded.  He finished with a modest 10-point, three-rebound night, but he played great defense and really added a spark to the starting line-up.
  • Smart continues to go to the duo of Isaiah Thomas and Jimmer Fredette off the bench and they keep responding with energy and scoring.  Tonight, they combined for 18 points, nine assists and four rebounds in 39 minutes of action.  You can see the chemistry developing between these two second-year guards.
  • Jason Thompson is going to be asked to do plenty while the Kings assess the Cousins situation.  Not only has JT moved over to center, but the Kings are having to rely on him for both rebounding and post scoring.  Tonight, he scored 10 points and grabbed six rebounds, but that was in just 21 minutes as Smart relied heavily on a small-ball lineup against the Blazers.
  • Thomas Robinson really needs to find his game.  The No. 5 pick in the 2012 NBA Draft is having massive issues scoring at the rim.  Tonight, he missed a wide-open, two-handed flush and finished just 1-for-4 from the field in 20 minutes of play.  If there is an open audition for Cousins’ minutes, Robinson needs to do more than four points and five rebounds.
  • Stat of the Night: It’s already been mentioned, but 31 assists is a revelation for the Sacramento Kings.  Their previous high was 25, which they accomplished twice this season.
– James Ham

Three answers to three questions pondered

1.  Who will start in place of DeMarcus Cousins?

With Cousins missing yet another game to suspension, James Johnson earned a starting nod in his place.  Outside of a few avoidable fouls, the fourth-year forward played a respectable game in Cousins’ absence.   He scored 10 points on 4-of-7 shooting.  The 25-year-old small forward didn’t settle from the perimeter and was aggressive attacking the basket.  On shots around the rim, Johnson went a respectable 3-of-5 and took only two jump shots in the game.

2.  Which Kings big man steps up his production in Cousins’ absence?

It ended up being a collective effort to fill the void left by the 22-year-old center.  Jason Thompson picked up the slack in the starting unit, scoring 10 points on 5-of-9 shooting while also collecting six rebounds in the win.  Meanwhile, Travis Outlaw once again had himself a night against his former team.  Outlaw came out scorching, scoring 13 of his 15 points in the second quarter.  At one point in the period, the veteran small forward outscored the team that drafted him 10-9.

3. Which Kings guard steps up his production in Tyreke Evans‘ absence?

Isaiah Thomas and Jimmer Fredette got things going for the Kings backcourt in the second period.  With the Kings trailing by six,  they entered the game and immediately pushed the tempo.  Thomas and Fredette scored 13 of their combined 18 points before intermission.  But it was Marcus Thornton who really made the difference in Evans’ absence.  Thornton started off sluggish, scoring just four points in the first half.  However, he found his rhythm after intermission, scoring 18 points in the third and fourth periods.  In the second half alone, Thornton shot 8-of-11 from the field, including two made threes off four attempts.

– Jonathan Santiago

Quotes of the Game

Keith Smart on how his players responded in the absence of three teammates:

No. 1 thing was 31 assists – that tells the story right there.  Not just making shots, but 31 assists for this group after everything we’ve been through over the last couple of days, for them to pull together.  Yesterday’s practice was kind of hodgepodge-put-together because you tried to create something where everybody knew what was going on.  But the fact that they put it all aside, came to practice this morning, put it together and we came with our gameplan for tonight’s game and they came out and performed.

We struggled a little bit and that happens, but obviously they put all together and the bench came in, guys played well, everybody wanted their minutes and played their minutes, so I was excited for all of the guys that came in.  Obviously, when you’re winning a game, everyone’s up on the benc cheering – that happens.  When you’re losing a game, you can look all around the league, no one’s up there cheering – very seldom, unless you’re making a run.  So our guys, I think they were really genuinely pulling for each other to succeed tonight.  I thought it was great that these guys, over all that has gone on, that they still played together, played the right way, did everything that their game plan said to do.  Even when they made mistakes, they were mistakes that still kind of followed the gameplan.

James Johnson on playing without Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins:

We’re definitely missing them, but the league isn’t going to feel sorry for us.  These guys are going for our throat because don’t have DeMarcus Cousins or Tyreke Evans.  We can’t feel sorry for ourselves – we just have to play hard basketball.

Trail Blazers head coach Terry Stotts on the Kings playing short-handed:

I thought that they played very well.  In this league, when players are missing for whatever reason, the other players usually take that as an opportunity to play and we’ve had that for us.  During our homestand, we had some players get hurt and other players took advantage of the opportunity.  I think the same thing happened tonight with the Kings.

Injury Notes

Tyreke Evans missed his ninth game due to soreness in his left knee.  Francisco Garcia missed his second game to injury this season due to soreness in his lower back.

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Jonathan Santiago
Jonathan Santiago serves Cowbell Kingdom as senior editor specializing in writing, podcasting and video production. He also handles the majority of CK’s day-to-day beat coverage of the Kings.

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