Cousins and Thomas lead Kings past Toronto 98-91

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Cousins and Thomas lead Kings past Toronto 98-91

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TORONTO -- DeMarcus Cousins wants to put "the silly stuff" behind him and just play basketball. So far, he seems to be doing exactly that.Cousins had 21 points and a career-high 19 rebounds, Tyreke Evans scored a season-high 29 points and the Sacramento Kings snapped a seven-game losing streak in Toronto by beating the Raptors 98-91 Wednesday night.An escalating feud with former coach Paul Westphal led Cousins to demand a trade earlier this month, resulting in him being told to stay away from the team for a game. The spat was resolved when Westphal was fired and replaced by Keith Smart, who offered Cousins his support, and a blank slate."He's a new player, man," Evans said. "I'm happy for him. He's done a great job just going out there and playing, helping us, not arguing with anybody on the team, just staying focused."He plays like that, he's an All-Star for sure," Evans added. "The way he's playing right now is unbelievable. We need that out of him every night."Cousins acknowledged that things have been more fun since Smart took over."We're just out there playing ball, playing together and having fun," he said. "We're having fun while we're working hard. That's the biggest thing."Cousins, whose previous career high in rebounds was 18, set against Utah on March 5, 2011, said he wasn't aware how many he had until teammates on the bench started letting him know."In the moment you don't even realize it," Cousins said. "Towards the end of the game they were like Get one more, you'll have 20.' I'm just out there grabbing boards. That's my job, to get everything that comes off the glass."Smart played Cousins for just over 39 minutes to build his conditioning, and his stats: The double-double was his fourth straight."He had it in him to rebound tonight," Smart said. "Because he had that, it put him in an active mode and I'm happy with that."Rookie guard Isaiah Thomas scored 12 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter and Jimmer Fredette had 10 for the Kings, who had not won in Toronto since Feb. 22, 2004.Sacramento had lost two straight and four of five coming in, but held on to record its first road victory in five tries this season."It's definitely exciting to get that first (road) win, get that monkey off our backs," Fredette said.Leandro Barbosa came off the bench to score a season-high 24 points while DeMar DeRozan and Jose Calderon each had 13 for the Raptors, who have lost four of five.With the score 63-all heading into the fourth, Toronto scored the first four points to lead 67-63. Thomas answered with a 3-pointer and, after a hook shoot by Linas Kleiza, Evans hit another 3, giving the Kings a lead they would not relinquish.Amir Johnson's alley-oop dunk cut it to 82-77 with 2:34 left, but Cousins answered with a pair of free throws and then a dunk of his own as the Kings pushed their lead to nine points, 86-77, with 1:12 left.DeRozan had a three-point play, but Evans kept the Raptors at bay by making four consecutive free throws on the next two possessions. The 2010 Rookie of the Year finished a perfect 14 of 14 from the line.Toronto lost leading scorer Andrea Bargnani to a strained left calf with 3:13 left in the third quarter. Bargnani, who did not return, finished with 10 points and 10 rebounds in 28 minutes."He's our best player for sure," Calderon said. "After they let us know he wasn't coming out again, it was tough."Kleiza, out since undergoing microfracture surgery on his right knee last Feb. 1, made his return to the lineup, coming on late in the first quarter. Kleiza scored 10 points in 14 minutes."I feel good, it's fun to be back," Kleiza said. "The game didn't end the way anybody wanted but for me personally, after a year off, it feels good to be back."Barbosa scored 12 points in the second, but Thomas had eight for the Kings, who led 41-40 at the half.NOTES: Fredette made his second straight start in place of Marcus Thornton (left thigh contusion). ... Toronto played its third game in as many nights, their only such stretch of the season. ... Raptors F Amir Johnson hit a rare 3-pointer in the third quarter, just the third of his career. ... Sacramento's 31 made free throws were a season high. ... Toronto has turned the ball over 18 or more times in three of the past four games.

Calipari sees Labissiere's progress during rookie season: 'I give Sac credit'

Calipari sees Labissiere's progress during rookie season: 'I give Sac credit'

Nothing has come easy for Skal Labissiere. He survived the earthquakes in Haiti. He moved to the United States speaking only only French and Haitian Creole as a young teenager. And his lone season at Kentucky he went from a top five prospect to a player that nearly fell out of the first round.

The knock on Labissiere coming out of Kentucky was that he didn’t like contact. Maybe it went farther than that, but there was no question that when he left for the NBA, he didn’t exactly walk away on the best of terms with head coach John Calipari.

When the Kings took on the Los Angeles Lakers at the Staples Center in the final week of the regular season, Calipari sat in the stands watching a small group of his former players. During the telecast, NBC Sports California’s Kayte Christensen caught up with the legendary coach and he couldn’t stop gushing about his Wildcats alums, specifically the play of Labissiere.

“I look at Skal and the progress - I give Sac credit,” Calipari told Christensen. “These guys are working with him. He’s playing more confident. They’re putting him in positions he can have success. I didn’t do as good a job as they did.”

Labissiere went off for 19 points on 8-of-13 shooting against Los Angeles. He added three rebounds and two blocks, but the Kings stumbled down the stretch, allowing the Lakers to come away with the 98-94 victory.

In his freshman season at Kentucky, Labissiere scored more than 19 points just once, a 26 point outburst in his second game of the year against NJIT (New Jersey Institute of Technology). His highwater mark in his rookie season for the Kings was a 32-point, 11-rebound performance against the Phoenix Suns on March 15.

“He’s getting stronger, he’s growing, you can see him maturing physically, which was a big part of it,” Calipari said. “He had a good season with us, but, I used him wrong. Now I see him now, it’s amazing he’ll speak for me after I’m watching him play like this.”

The 21-year-old power forward has a smile that lights up a room. He even uses it as a defense mechanism when things get uncomfortable. Speaking about his time in Kentucky seems uncomfortable for the 6-foot-11 forward.

“Coach Cal, he does a really good job of getting guys ready for the next level,” Labissiere told NBC Sports California. “I appreciate him.”

Labissiere is looking ahead, not backwards. He is a an incredible talent and he is thankful for the job that Dave Joerger and his staff have done with him during his first season in the NBA.

“Coach Joerger, every since I was drafted here, he’s always believed in me,” Labissiere said. “He’s always putting me in the right positions, making me work on different things that normally I didn’t do in college. He’s making me do different things and believing in me. I love playing for him.”

Kentucky has produced some of the best big men in the game, including DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis and Karl-Anthony Towns. It’s a hotbed for talent, but specifically for centers and power forwards that take their game to the next level in the pros.

Labissiere would love to be included in that list, but he isn’t trying to be someone he’s not. His focus is on improving and helping his team win games.

“I don’t know, I’m just working for myself, doing what I’m supposed to do,” Labissiere said. “If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. I’m just going to keep doing my thing.”

The Kings have big plans for Labissiere and the rest of their young core this summer. Labissiere will likely join the team’s three other 2016 first round picks in Las Vegas for Summer League in July. Another two or three rookies from the 2017 NBA Draft will likely join them as Sacramento attempts to build some early chemistry amongst.

Following Summer League, Labissiere is scheduled to travel to Haiti where he will hold a basketball camp in his home country. It’s the first time he’s been back to Haiti since moving to the US following the earthquake in 2010.

Labissiere wasn’t the only Kentucky product on display for Sacramento against the Lakers. Willie Cauley-Stein spent three seasons under Calipari before going sixth overall in the 2015 NBA Draft.

Cauley-Stein put up solid numbers in front of his former coach, finishing the game against the Lakers with 14 points, seven rebounds and three blocks in just 23 minutes of action.

“Willie is doing what he does,” Calipari said. “He’s flying up and down that floor, he’s blocking shots. He seems to have some freedoms to do some of the stuff he does well.”

Cauley-Stein is a completely different player two season removed from his time at Kentucky. He finished strong down the stretch for Sacramento, showing a newfound confidence in his scoring ability.

“It’s a great feeling, I don’t think he’s watched me play like that since I left,” Cauley-Stein said. “It was cool to get a chance to see him and show him things I’ve worked on and I’ve gotten better. It was really satisfying, [him] telling me I got better, so I know I’m [going] in the right direction.”

It’s clear that Labissiere and Cauley-Stein had a very different experience at Kentucky. The end result might work out just fine for the Sacramento Kings. The duo played alongside one another for plenty of games down the stretch as the team’s starting frontcourt. It’s a look Kings fans might get used to seeing going forward.

 

Source: Kings hire Perry as Executive VP of Basketball Operations

Source: Kings hire Perry as Executive VP of Basketball Operations

SACRAMENTO -- The changes keep coming in Sacramento. NBC Sports California has confirmed that the Kings have hired former Orlando Magic executive, Scott Perry, to fill the role of Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations.

Perry will report directly to Vlade Divac, who will retain final say in player personnel decisions.

Perry spent the last five seasons in Orlando as Vice President of Basketball Operations and Assistant General Manager. He was let go from the Magic last week following the dismissal of General Manager Rob Hennigan.

Perry, 53, began his career as an executive with the Detroit Pistons where he held the position of Director of Player Personnel from 2000-2007. He briefly left the Pistons, joining the Seattle Supersonics organization as an Assistant General Manager of the team for the 2007-08 season, before spending another four years as Detroit’s Vice President of Basketball Operations from 2008-2012.

Highly regarded around the league, Perry adds another experienced basketball mind to the Kings front office.

During his postseason media availability last week, Vlade Divac spoke openly about his willingness to accept additional help.

“We’re open always to improve - the team, the front office, everything is open for improvement,” Divac said. “I’m very happy and confident in what we have right now, but like I said, we should be open if something can you better.”

With the addition of Luke Bornn on Wednesday to head up the team’s analytics department, and Perry on Friday, the Kings appear to be building a stronger infrastructure as they move into a full youth movement.

Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical was first with the information.