Kings drop season opener to Bulls 93-87

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Kings drop season opener to Bulls 93-87

BOX SCORE
CHICAGO -- Joakim Noah scored 23 points and grabbed 10 rebounds, and the Chicago Bulls got off to a good start without Derrick Rose, beating the Sacramento Kings 93-87 Wednesday in the season opener.Richard Hamilton added 19 points, while Carlos Boozer chipped in with 18 points and eight rebounds.The Bulls are out to show they can get by while their superstar recovers from a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee, and this was promising even if it was a struggle.Chicago led by 14 after a 10-0 run in the third quarter and hung on in the fourth after the Kings closed within three several times.A basket by Sacramento's Tyreke Evans (21 points) cut it to 86-83 with 41.2 seconds left, but Luol Deng hit 1 of 2 free throws.Evans couldn't get the ball in bounds, resulting in a five-second violation. That led to two free throws for Hamilton to make it 89-83 with 32.9 seconds left, and the Bulls hung on from there.Along with the points and rebounds, Noah set a career high with five steals. He also blocked three shotsHamilton was relentless after being sidelined for much of last season by injuries, and Boozer was effective down the stretch scoring seven points in the fourth.That included a neat three-point play off a miss by Noah in which he crashed to the court and then hit the free throw, making it 86-78 with 2:45 remaining.The Kings, who are trying to make a jump after six straight losing seasons, got 15 points from Marcus Thornton and 14 from DeMarcus Cousins.This time last year, the Bulls were eyeing a championship run. Now, with their superstar sidelined, there's a different vibe around Chicago.The mood changed when Rose crashed to the court late in the Bulls' playoff-opening win over Philadelphia, sending the Bulls spiraling toward a first-round exit and casting a huge cloud over a team that many saw as the biggest threat to Miami in the Eastern Conference.To many, they're treading water until Rose returns. The Bulls, of course, don't see it that way.Notes: Bulls F Taj Gibson did not expect to agree to a contract extension before the deadline late Wednesday night. Asked before the game if he's turning down the Bulls' offer, Gibson said that's "the way I see it." Without an extension, he becomes a restricted free agent. The Bulls would have the right to match any offer he receives from another team. ... The Bulls appointed Hall of Famer Scottie Pippen senior adviser to president and chief operating officer Michael Reinsdorf. Pippen has been serving as a team ambassador. In a statement issued Wednesday, Reinsdorf said the new title will "better reflect his role with the Bulls."

Cauley-Stein gets rare opportunity, delivers in Kings' win

Cauley-Stein gets rare opportunity, delivers in Kings' win

There was a Willie Cauley-Stein sighting Monday in Detroit. It’s become a rarity this season to see the Sacramento Kings’ 2015 first-round draft pick play substantial minutes in coach Dave Joerger’s rotation. But the bench is getting lean and Cauley-Stein answered the bell.

“He’s putting in his work and had an opportunity,” Joerger told media members following the Kings’ 109-104 win over the Pistons. “He went and got balls out of his area, which is important for a guy that athletic.”

The former 6th overall selection has played in just 37 games this season, sitting out seven contests as a healthy scratch. He’s posting 4.2 points and 2.1 rebounds in 11 minutes a night, but with both Rudy Gay and Omri Casspi sidelined, Cauley-Stein is getting a look.

It’s been difficult for the former Kentucky star. He knows he’s on a short a leash. He doesn’t have time to settle into the game, it’s zero-60 in five seconds or the bench is calling.

“I just try to maintain a mentality of just going in, going really hard, making sure I’m talking to the guards on different plays,” Cauley-Stein told reporters in Detroit. “Just trying to stay mentally right on it.”

After playing in multiple variations of the “dribble-drive motion offense,” both in college and in his rookie season in Sacramento under George Karl, the 7-footer has had to relearn the game of basketball under Joerger. It’s a difficult path to minutes, but Cauley-Stein can be seen working overtime almost everyday.

“The amount of work I’ve been putting in, it’s starting to show, it’s starting to pay off,” Cauley-Stein said. “I’m starting to get the trust of my teammates and my coaches behind me and that’s everything in this game.”

Following practice, Cauley-Stein can be seen working with big man coach Bob Thornton. When he is done there, he goes to assistant Larry Lewis for more skill work and then there are the 3-on-3 games with Ben McLemore and the rookies.

He can be seen in pregame working on his handles alongside McLemore and the coaching staff and he spent plenty of time over the summer working on his shooting stroke with Peja Stojakovic.

“It’s a great feeling to know when you put it down, you’ve got complete control where it’s going,” Cauley-Stein said. “It’s the same thing with your shot. The more and more you work on it, the more and more it just comes second hand. Right now it all feels good for me.”

Cauley-Stein had a breakout 12 points and five rebounds against the Pistons on Monday. He was active and even took All-Star center Andre Drummond off the dribble for a huge two-handed dunk.

A defensive specialist by nature, Cauley-Stein still has a long way to go before he is ready to be a major cog in Joerger’s high-post offense. But at 23 years old and under team control for at least another two seasons, there is still time to salvage the quirky big man.

The Kings need Cauley-Stein to develop into a tireless worker on the glass and a player that does the little things. He still has plenty of upside and tremendous length and athleticism. He’s doing the work and earned another shot at playing minutes on the frontline next to DeMarcus Cousins and Kosta Koufos.

More nights like the one in Detroit would go a long way towards earning the trust of Joerger and his staff.

Kings' Cousins: 'Only goal this season' is to make playoffs

Kings' Cousins: 'Only goal this season' is to make playoffs

With their 109-104 victory over the Detroit Pistons on Monday night, the Sacramento Kings sit 10 games under .500 at 17-27. In almost any other season, that would mean that they were dead in the water in the Western Conference playoff race. But this it the 2016-17 season where anything is possible at the bottom.

Following Sacramento’s win at the Palace at Auburn Hills, DeMarcus Cousins was asked about the playoff picture.

“It’s my only goal this season,” Cousins told reporters following the game. “My only goal.” 

When pushed on the subject, he gave a more complete answer.

“Oh man, it’s eating me alive - every loss or every time another team wins that’s battling for the eighth spot, it’s eating me alive,” Cousins added. “Our only goal is to be in the playoffs this season.”

The Kings snapped a five-game losing streak with the win over the Pistons and they came into the evening just 2-10 over their previous 12 games. 

Once they get through their current eight game road trip, they spend the entire month of February in the Pacific time zone and play 11 over their next 13 games at Golden 1 Center.  

“The one thing I can give credit to this team about is us staying together and being a positive locker room through the ups and downs,” Cousins said. “I’m still confident and I still believe we’re going to make that push for the playoffs.”

Despite the rough patch, the Kings remain just a game and a half out of the eighth spot in the Western Conference standings. No one is running away with that last playoff spot, at least not yet.