Kings look to carry momentum into Nets game

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Kings look to carry momentum into Nets game

DeMarcus Cousins is a far different player now from what the New Jersey Nets saw of him as a rookie.The second-year forward is putting together his best stretch of basketball and will try for a career-best sixth straight double-double Saturday night when the Sacramento Kings host the Nets.Cousins was bypassed by New Jersey (18-35) in the 2010 draft, falling to Sacramento (18-33) at No. 5. The Nets used the third overall pick on Derrick Favors, who is no longer on their team and missed all 13 shots for Utah on Friday.

That contest featured another dominant performance by Cousins, who had 27 points and 14 rebounds for his fifth straight double-double as the Kings ended a four-game slide with a 104-103 win over the Jazz. Cousins had a tying three-point play with 2:20 left and made the eventual game-winning free throw with 3.8 seconds to go."It feels good, especially playing through the type of adversity we played through (Friday)," Cousins said. "It was definitely a big win for us."Cousins is averaging 28.0 points and 15.0 rebounds over his last five games. His two games against New Jersey last season came within the first 11 of his career. The inexperience showed, as Cousins averaged 10.0 points on 31.3 percent shooting, though he did post 7.0 rebounds per game.His toughness has been his trademark, with more proof of it Friday. Cousins suffered a gash in a physical third quarter and was whistled for a technical foul as he left the court for stitches before coming back."I prefer a guy with fire," Kings coach Keith Smart said. "We have guys that you've got to pump up and put air in them to make them play hard and play with passion. (Cousins) is going to grow out of that and know how to manage. He'll settle down and his skills will continue to develop."Friday's Sacramento victory came without guard Tyreke Evans, out because of back spasms. Evans' status is uncertain for Saturday. He's averaging 20.5 points in two career home wins over the Nets.New Jersey has dropped 11 of its last 12 visits to Sacramento, but has been better on the road than at home all season. The Nets rallied from 19 points down in the second half Friday to win 102-100 at Golden State.Deron Williams had 20 assists - matching the NBA season high by Boston's Rajon Rondo against New York on March 4. Gerald Wallace finished with 24 points, 18 rebounds and six steals, and scored 10 points over the final 6 minutes as the Warriors crumbled down the stretch."The future looks good, if we had everybody healthy," Wallace said. "We have an elite point guard, we have one of the up-and-coming centers ... so our future looks great."Wallace, who has a player option with New Jersey in 2012-13, was drafted in the first round by Sacramento in 2001 and spent his first three seasons with the Kings. He's averaging 19.9 points on 53.1 percent shooting against the Kings - career highs against any opponent.

1-on-1 with Cauley-Stein: Finally having a good time in Sacramento

1-on-1 with Cauley-Stein: Finally having a good time in Sacramento

SACRAMENTO -- Anointing Willie Cauley-Stein as the savior of the Sacramento Kings is a mistake. One player cannot replace the incredible impact on the floor of the departed DeMarcus Cousins. Placing that type of pressure on a young player can do more damage than good.

The second-year big man came out hot in the team’s first game without Cousins, scoring a career-high 29 points and grabbing 10 rebounds. He backed that up by struggling against the Charlotte Hornets, posting just two points and two rebounds as Steve Clifford had his club clog the middle and take away the pick-and-roll.

Cauley-Stein is neither the superstar that sunk the Denver Nuggets, nor the player that struggled against the Hornets. He is somewhere in between and the Kentucky product has plenty of time to carve out his own path.

It will take a team effort to replace Cousins and even then, Sacramento will have to add more pieces in the offseason. For now, Cauley-Stein will get an opportunity to earn his paycheck. There are plenty of minutes of the 23-year-old 7-footer who sat down with CSN California this week to discuss his increased role with the Kings.

JH: What has this experience been for you, not only getting 35 minutes, but getting 22 shots attempts, How big is this opportunity for you?

WCS: It’s brand new, but it’s what you want, you know. It’s a situation you want to come to. Now it’s just all about believing - believing it’s consistent. Staying in an assassin's mind frame of just, come in, do your dirt and get out and hopefully you can compete enough to get the win. I can’t stress enough about how I’ve just got to be locked in, because I want that, I want this, I want this opportunity, I want to capitalize on it. (I want to) start getting some clout in the league.

JH: You’ve been known as a defensive-minded player your entire college career. How do you change people's mind and make them see that you can be something different?

WCS: You know, you never will, you never will. People want to see you how they want you. And I went a few years now trying to change people’s perception of what they think you should be. It’s what you want to be. I no longer care about what my critics say. How are they going to tell me what my game is and what I work on and what I don’t work on? You’ve just got to believe in your work, believe in your path. At this point, I’m really in-tune to what I’m trying to do.

JH: Does it help you that you’re surrounded by young players, as well as veterans? With these young players, you’re on the same path and the veterans are there to support you.

WCS: It’s great because, you know, being a young guy and getting to play with guys that you’re in a platoon with and you grind with everyday - it’s special, because you see each others work get put on the big stage. It’s cool to see the success start to happen, because it’s bad when you’re grinding, you’re grinding, you’re grinding and nothing’s happening and you’re just grinding. And then you finally get that break and then it’s like those three months you were going through while you were grinding, it’s like they don’t even exist in your head anymore and it’s wild once you get just a lick of success.

JH: I’ve seen you in the past not aggressively attacking the glass. And now we see you hammering these putbacks. Everything at the rim is aggressive and forceful. When did the light switch get hit for you? Now you’re just attacking.

WCS: That’s just what they ask me to do. Before, I had a backburner role. So playing 15 minutes, you’ve got to really good to get double-digit boards, especially when your scouter is saying - “don’t let him get boards, the only thing in this game he is going to do is get boards.” That’s just the way it was set up for us to do and now the scouting report has just gotten so much bigger, it’s like, you can’t take away all my strengths and that’s where it becomes big.

JH: Again, you came into the league as a defensive player, but you’ve had some struggles there as well. Do you think that’s going to come to you now that the aggression is there, you’re in the mix, you’re getting longer stretches to read people and know their tendencies?

WCS: For sure, definitely by just being aggressive, it’s going to come. At this point, a lot of our success is going to depend on how I’m playing. So if I stay at least consistent on defense like that, then there’s no problems if you’re not giving up anything. I’m blessed, I can do that.

JH: Are you having a good time?

WCS: (smiling) Finally, yeah, yeah I am.

JH: Does that have to do with the opportunity or does it have to do with the change in culture and the change in atmosphere around here?

WCS: It’s the change in everything and getting to be a part of it - a big part of it. It’s cool just to feel that love and that support from our upper management and the rest of our team, so that’s special, which is also going to fuel me on the floor. It’s a double-win.

NBA Gameday: College teammates Cauley-Stein, Towns face off

NBA Gameday: College teammates Cauley-Stein, Towns face off

SACRAMENTO -- The Sacramento Kings return to the court Monday evening trying to shake off a blowout loss to the Charlotte Hornets on Saturday afternoon. They’ll host Karl-Anthony Towns, Andrew Wiggins and the high-flying Minnesota Timberwolves.

The Kings couldn’t find the bottom of the net against the Hornets, shooting just 39.2 percent from the field in the loss. Dave Joerger is still trying to find combinations that work after having his roster reinvented over the break. He’s turned to newcomers Tyreke Evans and Buddy Hield for major minutes, but the change has also opened up opportunities of other players like Willie Cauley-Stein and Skal Labissiere.

Minnesota is fresh off a 142-130 loss to the Houston Rockets on Thursday night. The T-Wolves boast one of the best young duos in the game. Towns put on a show against the Rockets, scoring 37 points and grabbing 22 rebounds, while Andrew Wiggins added 30 points.

LINE

Timberwolves by 4.5

MATCHUP TO WATCH

Willie Cauley-Stein  vs. Karl-Anthony Towns -- These two know each other well from their time together at the University of Kentucky. Cauley-Stein was the defensive stopper and Towns was the star scorer. Towns drew the acclaim and was taken with the top overall selection in the 2015 NBA Draft, while Cauley-Stein went with the 6th overall pick. Cauley-Stein will likely come off the bench behind veteran big man Kosta Koufos, but he’ll play substantial minutes against his former college teammate. Towns is a star on the rise.

WHERE THEY STAND

Kings: 25-34, third place in Pacific

Timberwolves: 23-36, last place in Northwest

INJURY REPORT

Kings: SG Arron Afflalo (hamstring) questionable, 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.

Timberwolves: SG Zach LaVine (knee) out, C Nikola Pekovic (Achilles, ankle) out, PF Adreian Payne (illness) out.

SERIES HISTORY

After getting swept by Minnesota last season, Sacramento holds a 2-0 lead in the season series this year. The Timberwolves hold a slight 53-52 all-time advantage over the Kings.

QUOTE

“I’m real happy for him. He’s getting an opportunity to play the game, play a lot more minutes. Like I told him, it’s up him to take advantage of these minutes.” -Karl-Anthony Towns on college teammate Willie Cauley-Stein