Kings seek season-high win streak vs. Clips

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Kings seek season-high win streak vs. Clips

While struggling to close out games recently, the Los Angeles Clippers have watched their lead in the Pacific Division shrink.Visiting the team at the bottom of the division might not help.The Clippers will try to get a six-game road trip off to a good start Thursday night when they begin their season series with the Sacramento Kings, who have played well at home lately.Los Angeles suffered its third loss in four games Tuesday, 109-97 to Minnesota.

The Clippers led by seven late in the third quarter but faded, unable to keep up with the Timberwolves depth. Minnesota, which opened the fourth quarter on a 17-6 run, received 72 bench points compared to 11 for Los Angeles.Blake Griffin had 18 points and five rebounds in the first quarter before finishing with 30 points - one in the fourth - and seven boards. Chris Paul had 27 points, his average during the Clippers' 1-3 slump.Caron Butler was 1 of 10 from the field for two points and is averaging 7.0 on 29.8 percent shooting over the last five games.Trying to fend off the Los Angeles Lakers in the Pacific, the Clippers (20-12) look to end their late-game struggles. They were held to nine points through the first eight minutes of the fourth quarter Tuesday, went scoreless in the final three minutes of a 104-97 defeat to Golden State on Feb. 20 and blew a 13-point lead in a loss to San Antonio two nights earlier."That's something we've got to learn, how to put teams away," Paul said.Los Angeles allowed at least 103 points in each of those three defeats - about seven above its average - and now faces a Kings team which has scored more than 100 in a season-high three straight games.The Clippers have lost seven of eight and 23 of 26 in Sacramento, where they'll play the first of six road games in nine nights."We'll see what we're made of now," coach Vinny Del Negro said. "We have a tough road trip coming up. We're going to have to play on a higher level, especially on the road now, but maybe that will help us come together more."Los Angeles may not enjoy playing in Sacramento, but it's looking like the Kings won't be leaving in the near future. On Monday, the Kings and the NBA announced a tentative deal to keep the team in Sacramento, quieting rumors about a potential move.The Kings are in last place in the Pacific but have won four of five at Arco Arena, including a victory over West-leading Oklahoma City, and are 7-3 there since the calendar flipped to 2012.Now they'll try to match a season high with a third straight win overall."All I want to do is keep this team in close games because in close games anything can happen," coach Keith Smart said.Sacramento (12-22) had dropped six straight before winning at Washington last Wednesday, then came out of the All-Star break with a 103-96 victory over Utah on Tuesday.DeMarcus Cousins had 22 points and 18 rebounds, including eight offensive boards. He's averaged 19.9 points and 12.8 rebounds in his last 12 games."I think as he grows as a pro there's going to be a lot of nights where people won't have an answer for him," Smart said.Cousins, though, averaged 7.8 points on 30.0 percent shooting in four matchups with the Clippers last season.

Isaiah Thomas continues to show Kings he's the one that got away

Isaiah Thomas continues to show Kings he's the one that got away

The one that got away. 
 
There have been plenty of faces that have come and gone over the last decade of futility in Sacramento. But rarely has there been a player that has gone on to become something more than just a standard role player in the NBA. 
 
Isaiah Thomas is the exception.
 
Selected with the 60th pick in the 2011 NBA Draft, Thomas went from zero to hero in the strike shortened 2011-12 season with Sacramento. And that was just the tip of the iceberg.
 
In three seasons with the Kings, the generously listed 5-foot-9 Thomas became known as “The Pizza Guy” in Sacramento due to his commercials for a local pizza restaurant and his ability to deliver in the clutch. With a million-dollar smile and the presence of a man a foot taller, Thomas became the Kings’ most marketable player. 
 
By his third season, he was much more than just a novelty item. Despite his size limitations, Thomas posted 20.3 points and 6.3 assists per game in his final season with the Kings, forming a nice trio with DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay under head coach Michael Malone.
 
During the summer of 2014, the Kings, under general manager Pete D’Alessandro, decided to go in a different direction. Sacramento’s regime valued Thomas around the $5 million per season range, although they may not have even gone that high to retain the high-scoring point guard. 
 
When the Phoenix Suns came calling with a 3-year, $21 million deal offer for Thomas, D’Alessandro dealt the fan favorite for Alex Oriakhi (a second round pick that has never played a game of NBA action) and a trade exception. 
 
The Kings went a different direction and basically received nothing for one of their best assets. 
 
Rumors swirled afterwards about Thomas’ departure of discourse was between he and Cousins, but neither has ever substantiated the claims. In fact, both have denied that there was a rift.
 
“That’s all this league is, what people think they know - 99 percent of the time, they don’t know,” Cousins said. “That’s my guy. I’m extremely happy for him. I’m happy for all of the success he’s gotten so far.”
 
To take it a step further, Thomas has even lobbied to have the Kings star center join him with the Celtics.
 
“If he came to Boston, that would be good, really good,” Thomas told the Sporting News over the summer. “The thing is, I’ve got his respect. I’ve always had that."
 
“When I was with him, I didn’t back down,” Thomas added in his conversation with the Sporting News. “I’m a point guard and that was my job. No matter if we did or didn’t get along off the court, on that court we were going to get along, and I was going to hold him accountable. That’s just how it is. It’s how I’ve always been. And he respects me for doing that.”
 
Instead of paying slightly more for Thomas in 2014, Sacramento signed Darren Collison to a 3-year, $15 million deal that summer. The Suns already had two point guards in Goran Dragic and Eric Bledsoe and after 46 games, they dealt Thomas to the Celtics in a 3-team deal for Marcus Thornton and a future first round pick.
 
Through multiple conversations with management at the time, it was clear that Sacramento’s front office didn’t value Thomas as a starting point guard and they also didn’t believe that he would willingly accept a role as a six-man. 
 
Their valuation of Thomas was wrong. 
 
Fresh off his first All-Star game appearance and back-to-back playoff runs with the Boston Celtics, Thomas has taken his game to even greater heights this season under coach Brad Stevens. 
 
Thomas came into Friday night’s showdown with his former team averaging 26.1 points and 6.3 assists. He ranks ninth in the league in scoring and has the Celtics in the mix for a third straight playoff run. 
 
Sacramento made his life difficult, but the pint-sized point guard still managed to post 20 points and seven assists in the win over the Kings.
 
Thomas, 27, is a free agent at the end of the year and looking to cash in off his stellar numbers. Not only does he bring an ability to hit the big shot, but he’s a leader that has proven that he can take a team to the playoffs. 
 
The move to let Thomas slip through the Kings’ fingers goes down as one of the all-time gaffs in team history. Watching him thrive in Boston is a painful reminder to fans in Sacramento and the fact that the Kings got nothing in return makes it that much worse.  

Instant Replay: Kings battle in Boston, but come up short vs Celtics

Instant Replay: Kings battle in Boston, but come up short vs Celtics

BOX SCORE

Sacramento fell to 1-2 on their six-game road trip and 7-12 overall Friday night when they lost to the Boston Celtics by a final of 97-92 at TD Garden. 

Al Horford showed a new wrinkle to his game, stepping out and hitting 4-of-7 from long range. The veteran big finished the night with 26 points, eight rebounds and six blocks for the Celtics as they improved to 11-8 on the season.

Former Kings point guard Isaiah Thomas started off slowly, but still managed to drop in 20 points and hand out seven assists. 

Jae Crowder added 16 points on 6-for-12 shooting and Avery Bradley hit the Kings for 15 points and nine rebounds.

DeMarcus Cousins came into the contest with four straight games of 30 points or more, tying Kings greats Chris Webber and Mitch Richmond for the Sacramento-era record. The Kings All-Star center fell just short of setting a new high, finishing the night with 28 points and nine rebounds in the loss.  

Darren Collison quietly posted a solid night, dropping in 13 points on 4-for-8 shooting and Rudy Gay squeaked out a tough 13 points and eight rebounds, but the second unit was the real story of this game for Sacramento.

Matt Barnes came off the bench to stuff the stat sheet. The 36-year-old veteran scored 12 points, grabbed 16 rebounds, handed out five assists and swiped two steals in 31 minutes of action with the second unit. He was active from the moment he stepped on the court.

Barnes wasn’t the only one off the bench to make a huge impact. Willie Cauley-Stein ran the floor and his teammates found him for easy baskets at the rim. He finished with six points on 3-of-5 shooting. Omri Casspi ran the floor and launched from three on his way to seven points and five rebounds.

Ty Lawson handed out four assists and scored eight points, while Garrett Temple played stellar defense as the Kings bench outscored the Celtics bench 33-12. 

STANDOUT PERFORMER 

Horford burned the Kings early and he burned them late. He ran the floor, blocked shots and played tough defense all night.

TURNING POINT 

With 7:08 remaining, Cousins caught an elbow near the right eye and had to leave the game to get treatment. He returned a little over two minutes later, but the Celtics had already pushed the lead to eight. Sacramento drew to within three late, but didn’t get a foul call on a blocked 3-point attempt from Cousins inside of 10 seconds to play. 

INJURY UPDATE 

Cousins likely needed stitches, but the Kings’ training staff used temporary glue to close the wound and taped him up which allowed him to return to the floor.

WHAT'S NEXT  

Sacramento continues their shortened five-game road trip when they take on the New York Knicks on Sunday at Madison Square Garden. They have a two-day break before facing the Dallas Mavericks on Wednesday at the American Airlines Center.