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SACRAMENTO -- The new-look Sacramento Kings stunned the Denver Nuggets Thursday night in their first game without DeMarcus Cousins. They look to make it two straight Saturday afternoon when Kemba Walker and the Charlotte Hornets drop by Golden 1 Center for a 2pm matinee.
Welcome to the big leagues Willie Cauley-Stein. The second-year big man went off for a career-high 29 points against Nikola Jokic and the Nuggets last time out. Highlight reel dunks are becoming the norm for the athletic 7-footer as he tries to fill some of the void left by Cousins’ departure.
The Hornets are on a slide. Losers of 12-of-13, including an overtime stumble against the Pistons on Thursday, Charlotte sits 3.5 games out of the eighth spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
Hornets by 2.5
MATCHUP TO WATCH
Tyreke Evans vs. Nic Batum -- Evans will likely come off the bench in his second game back in Sacramento. The former top pick of the Kings is still playing himself into game shape after missing most of the first half of the season with a knee injury. He dropped in 15 points, three assists in four rebounds against Denver as a point forward. Batum is a versatile wing that loves to stuff the stat sheet. Walker is the primary scorer, but Batum is the player that make the Hornets go.
WHERE THEY STAND
Kings: 25-33, third place in Pacific
Hornets: 24-33, fourth place in Central
Kings: SG Arron Afflalo (hamstring) out, SG Malachi Richardson (right hamstring partial tear) out, G/F Garrett Temple (left hamstring partial tear) out, F Rudy Gay (torn left Achilles) out for season.
Hornets: C Cody Zeller (quad contusion) questionable, C Miles Plumlee (calf) out, PG Ramon Sessions (knee) out.
The Hornets swept the season series 2-0 last season, but Sacramento came away with a 109-106 win in the only matchup this year. Charlotte holds a 13-11 lead in the all-time series between the two clubs.
“We’ve got a very solid locker room. Even though a couple people aren’t there, guys have an opportunity to step forward in leadership and hug on each other and there’s lots of smiles and hugs right now and [we got] the first one out of the way. That’s a positive vibe to have just to come to work every day. So I think that’s positive.” -Dave Joerger following the win over Denver
MESA, Ariz. — In his heart, Liam Hendriks wanted to pitch for his national team in the World Baseball Classic. In reality, the A’s reliever just couldn’t justify it.
So Hendriks withdrew from joining Team Australia for its first-round games in Tokyo. He becomes the second Athletic to bow out of the WBC after left fielder Khris Davis decided not to play for Mexico. Relievers John Axford (Canada) and Santiago Casilla (Dominican Republic), and starter Sonny Gray (United States) are still slated to play, though Gray wouldn’t join the American squad unless it advances to Round 2 and Casilla still hasn’t reported to A’s camp because of visa issues, so his exact plans aren’t known.
“When I really sat down and thought about it, I’m not quite where I want to be to be pitching in competitive games yet,” Hendriks said Saturday morning. “I’m not hurt or anything like that. There’s no issues, I feel great physically. But it’s one of those things, I’m not quite ready to go into a game, and I know if I get into a situation where if I push it a little bit more, I’m going to overextend myself and I don’t want to do that. And I don’t want to risk this season coming up with Oakland.”
Hendriks told Australian officials he could be available for Round 2, but it will be a joint decision between how he was feeling and whether the Aussie pitching staff needs him.
The right-hander was originally scheduled to pitch in Saturday’s Cactus League opener, in an effort to get him into game shape for the WBC. Now that he’s not playing in the first round, the A’s are slowing him down just a bit. Hendriks will throw on the side a bit more and then throw live batting practice before pitching in an exhibition.
“I could pitch in a game right now … but I’m not confident in all my pitches,” he said. “I’m confident in my spring training pitches, but it’s not midseason form like I’d want to be to be able to perform for that (Australian) team.”
The 30-hour round trip travel to Tokyo also complicated things, with Hendriks saying his throwing schedule would have been thrown out of whack upon his return.
Now 28, Hendriks pointed out that he got to pitch in the 2009 WBC as a wide-eyed 20-year-old, getting his roster spot because a veteran backed out. He’s hopeful another youngster now gets the same opportunity.
Hendriks posted a 3.76 ERA in 53 appearances last season, but pitched particularly well over the second half of the season, setting him up as an important piece of this year’s A's bullpen.
“It’s just a better decision for my career and my season,” he said.