Athletics

Kings host Portland in first game at renamed arena

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Kings host Portland in first game at renamed arena

March 2, 2011

PORTLAND (33-27) vs.
KINGS (15-43)

Coverage begins at 7 P.M. on Comcast SportsNet California

SACRAMENTO (AP) -- The Sacramento Kings have a new name for their home arena, but it isn't clear if they'll play there after this season.

While that relocation drama plays out over the next two months, the Kings will try to build on an emotional home victory and deny the Portland Trail Blazers a fifth consecutive road win Wednesday night.

Sacramento (15-43) will play its first game at Power Balance Pavilion when it hosts Portland (33-27). That comes after the NBA gave the Kings until April 18 to decide if they plan to relocate before next season.

RELATED: NBA extends relocation deadline for Kings

The franchise is in talks with Anaheim, which is looking for an NBA team to share the Honda Center with the NHL's Ducks. In response, Sacramento fans organized a "Here We Stay" campaign and packed the former Arco Arena for Monday's 105-99 comeback win over the Los Angeles Clippers.

"We just wanted to go out there and play well and win the game for our fans," forward Omri Casspi said after the team's second sellout this season. "We talked about it with (coach Paul Westphal) and it was important for us to come and play aggressive and play well."

Marcus Thornton had 16 of his season-best 29 points in the fourth quarter to lead his team to its third win in 13 games and snap a five-game home losing streak.

REWIND: Furious fourth-quarter rally leads Kings past Clips

The guard is averaging 19.3 points in three games since coming over from New Orleans in a trade. Thornton was averaging 7.8 points in 46 games with the Hornets.

"They got me the ball in spots where I can be effective," Thornton said. "This is a young team that likes to have fun. It's been easy for me to get acclimated real fast."

It's unknown if the Kings' renamed arena will see another capacity crowd and the Kings could have a little trouble earning another win there against the Blazers.

Portland enters this game tied for seventh in the Western Conference and is on its longest road win streak in one season since taking five in a row Nov. 1-14, 2009.

The Blazers, though, have lost three of four overall and were handled 103-87 by visiting Houston on Tuesday night. Portland failed to top 88 points in the second straight game after averaging 104.1 over its previous eight.

"We've been a team that scrapped and had movement and energy and hustle," coach Nate McMillan said. "Our last two games, we haven't been close to that."

The Blazers also struggled offensively in their previous meeting with the Kings, shooting 39.5 percent in a 96-81 loss Jan. 24. That defeat snapped Portland's eight-game win streak over Sacramento.

Leading scorer LaMarcus Aldridge (22.3 ppg) registered only nine points in the loss and had one of his worst performances since that game Tuesday with 14 points. He's averaged 16.5 on 44.0 percent shooting in his last two games after averaging 31.9 on 59.3 percent shooting in his previous seven.

Aldridge scored 23 points and Nicolas Batum had a season-high 24 in a 94-90 overtime win over the Kings on Jan. 19, Portland's fourth in a row in Sacramento.

A's rookie Olson stays humble during record-breaking power surge

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A's rookie Olson stays humble during record-breaking power surge

OAKLAND — Matt Olson is aware of the company he’s keeping in the A’s record books.

His reaction is a mix of reverence and a shrug-of-the-shoulders type humbleness.

That’s the personality of the A’s rookie first baseman. Even as the conversation about him and his awe-inspiring home run pace grows louder, he remains the same steady, grounded presence.

“I’m happy for him,” A’s hitting coach Darren Bush said. “The guy’s worked his butt off. He’s the same today as was when he first got called up.”

Olson cleared the fences once again Friday night, his two-run homer off Nick Martinez in the second inning helping the A’s to a 4-1 victory over the Texas Rangers. At this point, it’s much more newsworthy when Olson doesn’t homer than when he does.

He’s crammed 24 homers into just 57 games this season. Taking into account his first call-up last September, and Olson’s 24 homers over the first 68 games of his career are the second-most in the history of major league baseball over that span to open a career. The Dodgers’ Cody Bellinger also hit 24 and only the White Sox’s Jose Abreu, with 25, hit more over his first 68.

Olson’s 13 homers in September are the most by any rookie in major league history for the month, and there’s still eight games left in it. But Olson’s hot streak dates back to Aug. 27. He’s hit a major league-best 16 homers in 23 games since then.

Among rookies in A’s history, only Mark McGwire (49) in 1987 and Jose Canseco (33) in 1986 have hit more than Olson’s 24. But neither Bash Brother, nor any other player in Oakland history, ever hit 15 homers in a 21-game span as Olson recently did.

“It’s definitely an honor,” Olson said before Friday’s game. “I grew up with a Mark McGwire poster on my wall. It’s a little surreal.”

Who saw this coming?

Olson went 2-for-21 without a single RBI in his first taste of the bigs last September. Then he shuttled five times between Triple-A and the majors this season before getting called up once again Aug. 8 and being told he’d get a shot as the A’s regular first baseman with Yonder Alonso having been traded. The constant shuttling took its toll, though Olson never let on about that publicly to reporters.

“You could see (the frustration),” said Ryan Christenson, his manager at Triple-A. “When he walks in and you tell him ‘You’re getting sent up,’ and he’s like, ‘Well, how many days is it for this time?’ He wouldn’t voice it necessarily, but you could sense it.”

Olson, with help from Bush and others, made an adjustment coming into this season. He began holding his hands out farther away from his body to begin his swing. With his 6-foot-5 frame, Olson had found himself getting jammed inside. Then in trying to adjust to that, he couldn’t square up pitches on the outer half.

“Now, his hands are firing from where he wants them to,” Bush said. “He doesn’t have to fight. You want your hands to have a clean path. Now he can stay in there, stay behind the ball, let his hands work for him.”

Olson, a 23-year-old from Lilburn, Ga., takes this sudden burst of success — and attention — in stride.

“I’ve been hit with so many stats here in the past week, I can’t even keep track of who’s done what, and honestly what I’ve done,” he said. “I kind of try to ignore all that.”

That’s OK. Others are taking plenty of notice.

 

As Dodgers celebrate, Bochy turns eyes to franchise-altering talent

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As Dodgers celebrate, Bochy turns eyes to franchise-altering talent

LOS ANGELES — The Giants left their dugout quickly after Friday’s loss, escaping a celebration on the mound and a fireworks show in the sky. As Dodger Stadium shook with cheers, Bruce Bochy sat in the visiting clubhouse and smiled. He nodded at his laptop, which earlier had been used to pull up highlights of Japanese two-way star Shohei Otani. 

“He’s good,” Bochy said, laughing. “I absolutely would play him every day.”

Earlier in the week, when it became known that Bobby Evans and Jeremy Shelley were headed to Japan to scout Otani, Bochy said he couldn’t imagine a player pitching and then moving to the outfield between starts. What changed? 

Perhaps it was the tape Bochy saw. Otani throws 100 mph and hits homers with ease. Or perhaps it was the game he watched Friday. The Giants lost for the 94th time, with the big blow coming from a 22-year-old Dodgers star. Cody Bellinger’s blast was the difference in a 4-2 win, and the Giants don’t have a Bellinger, or anything close. Otani, 23, is a long shot for a team that very well could finish with the worst record in baseball. Still, he’s the kind of talent that could help pull the Giants closer in a hurry. He’s the  kind of talent they haven’t developed in years, and Bochy certainly sounded a bit wistful as he talked of the power Bellinger has put on display. 

“You call up a guy and he does that — that just doesn’t happen,” he said. “It’s a rare deal.”

The ninth inning of the Dodgers’ clincher reinforced that point for the Giants. They got a homer from Pablo Sandoval, but he’s playing only because Christian Arroyo — the Giants’ best prospect bet this year — is hurt. Ryder Jones, their 23-year-old prospect, struck out to end the night, dropping his average to .180. 

That set off a celebration for Bellinger and the Dodgers. They have won five straight NL West titles, with three of the last four clinched against the Giants. 

“Congrats to them,” Bochy said. “They’ve had a tremendous year across the board, and they’ve played great baseball. They brought some guys up that really did a great job for them. It’s well deserved.”

Bochy said it was not difficult to watch this one. The division has been wrapped up for months, with only a September slide keeping the Dodgers from clinching earlier. 

“We knew what we were facing here,” Bochy said. 

The Giants have two more against the Dodgers and then six more before a long winter. The Dodgers, on the other hand, will host an NLDS series here at Dodger Stadium. Both Bochy and starter Jeff Samardzija made the same observation, that the Dodgers will have a hard time cutting their deep roster down to 25 postseason players. 

That’s a nice problem to have. It’s a foreign one right now for the Giants, who have a serious talent gap and no clear solutions internally. It’s no wonder, then, that Bochy has all of a sudden become so intrigued by a wondrous talent overseas.