Kings assume spoiler role facing Jazz


Kings assume spoiler role facing Jazz

The Utah Jazz were at their lowest point of the season when they left Sacramento last month.

The Jazz could be back in the Western Conference playoff picture with a victory in this visit to California's capital, but knocking off the resurgent Kings could be a challenge.

Utah goes for a season high-tying fifth consecutive win Thursday night when the Kings try to close out the franchise's longest homestand with a fourth straight victory.

Arriving in Sacramento with just three victories in 13 games, the Jazz (24-22) dropped their season-high fourth in a row Feb. 28, losing 103-96 to fall a season-worst three games below .500.

Utah, though, is on a roll heading into this contest, with its last two victories coming over the West's elite. After winning 103-99 at the Pacific Division-leading Los Angeles Lakers on Sunday, the Jazz beat conference-leading Oklahoma City 97-90 at home Tuesday.

"It's all about confidence right now," said Al Jefferson, who had 16 points after missing the previous two games to attend his grandmother's funeral.

If Utah can match a 5-0 run from Jan. 2-10 and Houston loses to Golden State earlier Thursday, the Jazz will hold the eighth spot in the West. They were 2 12 games out of the conference's final playoff position following the Feb. 28 defeat.

"We should be very confident right now," coach Tyrone Corbin said. "We're understanding that we need to count on each other, especially at the defensive end of the floor and depending on each other to make the right plays."

The Jazz are holding opponents to 96.5 points on 43.0 percent shooting during their current run, but slowing down the Kings (17-29) could be difficult.

Led by Marcus Thornton's 30.3 points per game, Sacramento is averaging 118.0 during its three-game winning streak.

More importantly, it appears the Kings are getting along as well as they have all season. Coach Keith Smart has a rule that any player out with an injury doesn't lose his spot, but Tyreke Evans - who was ready to return after missing two games with a sprained left ankle - requested prior to Tuesday's 119-110 win over Memphis that John Salmons stay in the starting lineup.

"They're starting to like each other," said Smart, whose team will try to win four straight at home for the first time since Nov. 25-Dec. 2, 2009. "And they're getting closer to that other 'L' word."

It's unclear if Evans will come off the bench again Thursday, but Smart will want to make sure to give him plenty of minutes. Evans had a season-high 31 points in a 96-93 loss in Salt Lake City on Jan. 28, and his 22.6 average versus Utah is his highest against any team.

Kings center DeMarcus Cousins scored 22 points with 18 rebounds on Feb. 28 and is averaging 21.3 points and 13.7 boards in three home games against Utah.

The Jazz, who open a stretch of 11 of 17 outside Utah, have the second-fewest road wins (six) in the West, ahead of only Sacramento's four.

The Kings are trying to win two straight in this series for the first time since 2006-07.

Cousins reacts to playing with Davis: 'We can wreak havoc on this league'

Cousins reacts to playing with Davis: 'We can wreak havoc on this league'

METAIRIE, La. -- DeMarcus Cousins says his prayers have been answered, although not necessarily in the way he expected.

The New Orleans Pelicans' newest All-Star maintained on Wednesday that he liked Sacramento and initially wasn't happy about being traded Sunday night, but added he'd become frustrated waiting through six-plus losing seasons for the Kings to add more elite players.

"I would go home, just stressed out, pulling my hair out, you know, praying, praying, praying: Just send me some help."

Cousins is the one who wound up being sent away, but to a team where he joins fellow 6-foot-11 All-Star Anthony Davis.

"Our games complement one another and being together I think is going to make both of our jobs easier," Cousins said shortly before his first Pelicans practice. "We can wreak havoc on this league. Will it happen overnight? Probably not, but our potential is scary."

Davis and Cousins debut as Pelicans teammates at home Thursday night against Houston - a game Davis has been eagerly awaiting since learning of the trade on Sunday night. The deal excited him to the point he had trouble sleeping and texted Cousins around 3 a.m. Monday. Cousins' was up, too, an texted back.

"I was up all night just thinking about how far we could go and what we could do on the court together," Davis said. "We're both excited for the rest of the season, then next year."

Cousins is averaging 27.8 points and 10.6 rebounds this season and can become a free agent in 2018 unless the Pelicans can sign him to an extension commensurate to All-Star pay.

Cousins said he's not prepared to discuss his contract situation now, but stressed, "I'm all in. I'll make the best of this opportunity and see what the future holds."

Davis is averaging 27.7 points, 11.9 rebounds and 2.5 blocks per game this season and is coming off his fourth straight All-Star game. On Sunday night, he scored an All-Star game record 52 points and was named MVP.

Without using the term "Big Three," general manager Dell Demps insinuated that he sees the two former Kentucky big men and point guard Jrue Holiday - a former Eastern Conference All-Star - in such a light.

"We just felt that those three guys, putting them together, it's exciting just to think about the possibilities," Demps said.

Holiday, who has struggled with injuries since being acquired in 2013, has been healthy this season and is averaging 16.3 points and 7.5 assists.

The key with Cousins is how he manages his notoriously combustible on-court disposition. Asked to describe how intense of a competitor he is, Cousins grinned and said, "about 17 technicals worth," referring to his league-leading technical foul total. His 16th technical foul resulted in a one-game suspension as would his 18th, 20th and every two technical after that for the duration of the season.

In describing how he and Davis would complement one another, Cousins said, "You've got a little fire; you've got a little ice."

Demps laughed and added, "I couldn't have said it better myself."

Still, Cousins said he was not averse to trying harder to reign in his emotions - a little.

"Being in the position I'm in right now, I'm going to have to turn it down a little bit, to find that balance," Cousins said. "I have to remain myself. That's the way I play. That's what makes me the player that I am, but I do have to find that fine line."

Davis said he knows Cousins is emotional and will be ready to step between him and officials or others to try to keep Cousins calm when tensions rise.

"I'm not afraid of him - at all," Davis said. "When you want to win, you've got to be comfortable telling whoever what they need to hear."

The Pelicans' can't afford any suspensions. The Cousins deal also brought New Orleans forward Omri Casspi in exchange guards Tryeke Evans, Buddy Hield, and Langston Galloway, along with first- and second-round draft picks this summer. The Pelicans need the move to pay immediate dividends. They are 2½ games out of the final Western Conference playoff spot with 25 games left.

"I'm extremely, extremely excited about the possibilities," Pelicans coach Alvin Gentry said. "It does take time. We're going to try to make it work quickly. That may not be the case but we don't have a whole lot of margin of error right now."

With trade deadline imminent, Darren Collison on pins and needles

With trade deadline imminent, Darren Collison on pins and needles

SACRAMENTO -- The Sacramento Kings stunned the NBA world on Sunday went they sent three-time All-Star DeMarcus Cousins to the New Orleans Pelicans. Now they have a roster filled with veterans that aren’t quite sure what the next 24 hours hold.

Players are waiting for the other shoe to drop. Will Vlade Divac and his staff stand pat, giving veteran players like Darren Collison, Anthony Tolliver, Arron Afflalo, Ty Lawson, Garrett Temple and Kosta Koufos a chance to prove that this team can still compete? Or is this a fire sale situation where no one is left standing when the clock strikes 12 pm PST Thursday afternoon.

“There’s really nothing you can do about anything,” Collison said Tuesday evening. “If your franchise player gets traded, what does that say about everybody else?"

Collison was emotional. He is married and has a young son in school. They have made Sacramento their home and the veteran point guard has kept open the option of staying with the Kings when his contract ends after the season, even with the major changes that have taken place.

“No question,” Collison said when asked if he would consider staying this summer. “I think these fans are unbelievable, you guys (speaking of media) are unbelievable. That’s something you don’t get everywhere else, you know what I mean. I’ve been on a few teams and I can honestly say these are some great people. That’s what makes it so hard to leave Sacramento.”

Before speaking to the media, Collison had already reached out to the Kings front office to see what his future held with the club.

“As far as I know, I spoke to Vlade, he said he had no plans of trading me,” Collison said. “But even before he said that, I’m a little shaken up with the situation with Cuz and Casspi, so we’ll see.”

According to a source with knowledge of the situation, the Kings like Collison and would consider re-signing him in the offseason. They also know that another NBA team could make an offer in the nexty day they can't refuse.

With hours remaining before the deadline, Collison is on pins and needles. Players, like everyone else, get caught up in the constant rumors and innuendo floating around on social media and other platforms. The difference is, it is their lives that are being discussed as if they were pawns on a chessboard.  

“There’s no mechanism of how to work around it, there’s no strategy of how to work around trade rumors,” Collison said. “Some are just rumors. Some have a little bit of facts to it, but at the end of the day, you’ll know when they tell you unfortunately. It’s even worse when you have a family.”

Collison was very clear that he wants to win. He’s not getting any younger and the Kings are clearly shifting gears and going towards a youth movement. But he also would like to stick around Sacramento and see this thing through.

Teams are looking for playmakers and scorers for the stretch run and Collison fits that bill. He’s averaging 13.7 points and 4.2 assists in 30.9 minutes per game. He’s also shooting 48.1 percent from the field and a career-best 42.1 percent from long range.

After a slow start to the season, including an eight game suspension to open the campaign, Collison is playing his best basketball in the month of February, posting 18.3 points on 44.8 percent shooting from 3-point range. The remaining balance on his $5.2 million salary for this season also makes him an easily moveable trade chip.

This is the ugly side of the NBA life. It’s a business, but a business that involves real people and their families. After watching the events of the weekend, nothing is off the table in Sacramento.