Kings face Bucks in first game without Westphal

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Kings face Bucks in first game without Westphal

PROGRAMMING ALERT: We will have a Live Video Feed of the team's press conference tonight at 5:45 -- both on CSNCalifornia.com and Chronicle Live. Watch the news as it happens.
Milwaukee (2-3) vs. Kings (2-5) at 6:30 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet California and Comcast SportsNet Plus
With DeMarcus Cousins and Tyreke Evans, the Sacramento Kings appear to have a promising nucleus for the future.Appearances, however, aren't always what they seem as the Kings hope a coaching change can spark the duo heading into Thursday night's game versus the Milwaukee Bucks.Paul Westphal was fired after a 2-5 start dropped the Kings into last place in the Pacific Division and replaced by assistant Keith Smart on Thursday afternoon. Even before the lockout, the season has been viewed as a crossroads for the franchise, which may again consider relocating from Sacramento if a financing deal for a new arena cannot be reached.RELATED: Kings fire Westphal as coach
"I want to thank Paul for all of his effort on behalf of the Kings," said team president of basketball operations Geoff Petrie. "Unfortunately, the overall performance level of the team has not approached what we felt was reasonable to expect. I wish him the best in his future endeavors."Westphal's falling out with forward DeMarcus Cousins may have been too much to overcome. He suspended the mercurial second-year pro for Sacramento's game on Jan. 1, criticizing Cousins' commitment to the team and claiming he asked to be traded, something the player's agent denies.
The firing represents the fastest coaching changes to start an NBA season since 1976-77. Billy Cunningham was axed by the 76ers after seven games in 1977-78.Petrie tabbed Smart, who went 36-46 as Golden State Warriors coach last season, to take over the team. Yet Smart may be hard-pressed to fix the defensive shortcomings of a team which currently ranks second-to-last in both defensive scoring at 102.4 points per game and defensive field goal percentage (48.5 percent).The Warriors were tied for 27th in scoring defense at 105.7 points per game - one full point worse than Sacramento - in Smart's lone season.The fifth overall pick in 2010, Cousins had a season-high 26 points off the bench in a 110-83 loss at Denver on Wednesday but is shooting just 38.6 percent overall while averaging 13.7 points and 9.3 rebounds. Evans, the 2010 NBA rookie of the year after averaging 20.1 points, is contributing 14.3 per game on 42.0 percent shooting.Even without three key players and struggling offensively, the Bucks (2-3) may be catching the Kings at the right time. Milwaukee has dropped the first two games on its five-game western trip but has won its last three games at Sacramento.Ratto: Westphal swamped by the tide
Without star Andrew Bogut (personal reasons), swingman Mike Dunleavy Jr. (groin) and former King Beno Udrih (shoulder), the Bucks shot a paltry 30.5 percent from the field - including 2 of 21 from 3-point range - in an 85-73 loss to the Jazz on Tuesday."It's tough," said forward Drew Gooden, the lone bright spot with 24 points and 12 rebounds. "We can't win scoring 70-80 points. We've got to be in the high 90s to beat these teams. That comes with executing the offense."Milwaukee has averaged 109.0 points during its three-game winning streak at Sacramento that follows a four-game road skid to the Kings. However, with Bogut (14.3 points per game, 10.0 rebounds per game), Dunleavy (10.3 ppg, 6.3 rpg) and Udrih (9.0 ppg) all likely to miss this season's annual visit, the Bucks' run in Sacramento could be in jeopardy.They certainly need more production from guard Brandon Jennings, who has totaled 20 points in the last two games while shooting 9 of 35 overall and 0 for 11 from 3-point range. He averaged 22.7 on 46.0 percent shooting in the season's first three contests.Jennings went 8 of 13 from beyond the arc and finished with 35 points in his only previous game at Sacramento, a 114-108 double-overtime victory March 19, 2010.

Crowder on facing Cousins: ‘Step up to the test or you get run over’

Crowder on facing Cousins: ‘Step up to the test or you get run over’

BOSTON – There was a point in the fourth quarter when Sacramento's DeMarcus Cousins was fouled trying to score which brought about an automatic, intense and angry scowl from the all-star center. 

He raised his hand as he were going to strike back at the potential assailant. 

And then he saw the man was Jae Crowder.

Cousins, who had a game-high 28 points, then went to the free throw line, incident-free. 

“I’m not one those other cats he be punking,” said Crowder with a grin.

That moment was one of many throughout Friday night’s game when Crowder made his presence felt when the game mattered most, and wasn’t afraid to mix it up with whoever stood between him and helping the Celtics win – even Cousins. 

But as Crowder explained following Boston’s 97-92 win, that moment was about two physical players who have developed an on-the-floor rapport that speaks to their intensity and desire to win at all costs. 

“He’s going to bring the game to you; his physicality,” said Crowder who had 16 points on 6-for-12 shooting. “He’s a very physical type of guy. If he senses you’re not physical at all, he’ll let you know. He’s a dog down there; he’s a bull. I love to go against a player like that. He’s going to give you his best shot each and every night. You either step up to the test or you get run over.”

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Rewind: If Kings can't fix slow starts, 'another losing season' awaits

Rewind: If Kings can't fix slow starts, 'another losing season' awaits

Opposing teams are making a habit out of bloodying the Sacramento Kings in the first quarter. Game after game, the team wearing purple falls behind big out of the shoot and it was no different Friday night in Boston. The Celtics looked energized, taking a 13-point lead early and then held on for a 97-92 win.  

A clearly frustrated coach Joerger placed the blame on his players in postgame, answering, “no, no” when asked if there is anything he can do to to get the team off to better starts. When pushed if it was on the players, he bluntly said, “yep.”

It’s become a chronic issue. The starters stumble. The second unit runs onto the court with buckets trying to bail water as quickly as possible. Whether it’s energy, effort or compatibility, something needs to change.  

At the 3:13 mark of the first quarter, Avery Bradley dropped in a 26-foot 3-pointer to give the Celtics a 29-16 lead. The combination of Matt Barnes, Garrett Temple, Ty Lawson and Omri Casspi went to work alongside DeMarcus Cousins and closed out the quarter on a 13-0 run to tie the game.

“They struggled out of the gate,” Joerger said of his starters. “The second unit was good. They had a lot of energy and brought us back from a slow start.”

Making up big deficits take plenty of energy, which always seems to come back to haunt the Kings late. They keep the game close, only to run out of gas at the finish line.

“It’s almost like we got to get hit first to react,” Cousins said from his locker stall. “That’s kind of been the slogan the whole year. It’s not good for us.”

Despite not playing since Monday, the Kings starters were a step slow on their rotations and two steps slow on their closeouts. Boston moved the ball freely and found the open man on their way to 5-of-9 from three in the first 12 minutes.

“We’re in a situation where we have to come out and be the aggressive team every night,” Cousins said. “We’re not that team that can just start playing and think we can turn it on whenever.”

Unfortunately, Cousins is making a similar speech on too many nights early in the season. Clearly it’s wearing on the two-time All-Star.

“If we don’t figure this thing out, we’re going to continue to have these types of games and just another losing season,” said Cousins.

Cousins backed his coach in post game, taking the blame, along with his teammates. For the first time in four contests, he didn’t crack 30 points or more, finishing with 28 and nine rebounds.

“If we want to change things around, it’s on us,” Cousins said. “And we’ve got to hold ourselves accountable and take responsibility for our effort coming out early in games.”

To add injury to insult, the 26-year-old fielded questions with tape surrounding his right eye. Cousins took an inadvertent elbow to the head from teammate Ty Lawson at the 7:08 mark of the fourth quarter. He missed two minutes of game time, which proved to be crucial, but returned to the floor after having the wound glued shut temporarily.

Following the game, Cousins received eight stitches from the team’s medical staff.

Sacramento has a chance to get back to even on their five-game road trip Sunday afternoon when they face the 10-9 New York Knicks at Madison Square Garden. The NBA schedule waits for no one. If they want to climb out of their slumber, they’ll need to find a solution to their early game struggles on the fly.