Kings stop Blazers' winning streak

outlaw-thomas-kings.jpg

Kings stop Blazers' winning streak

BOX SCORE

SACRAMENTO -- It appears the Sacramento Kings can play well without their controversial leading scorer and rebounder, DeMarcus Cousins.

With Cousins not in the arena due for disciplinary reasons, the Kings were an effective, unselfish team.

Now the question is whether they can keep it up.

Marcus Thornton scored 18 of his 22 points in the second half to help the slumping Kings snap Portland's five-game winning streak with a 108-96 victory over the Trail Blazers on Sunday night.

Cousins, who is the starting center, was suspended indefinitely Saturday for unprofessional behavior and conduct detrimental to the team. The third-year player and Kings head coach Keith Smart had a confrontation during halftime of Friday's 97-85 loss to the Los Angeles Clippers. Smart told Cousins to stay in the locker room and not join the team for the second half.

Sacramento had six players in double figures and recorded a season-high 31 assists against Portland. The Kings pulled away in the second half, shooting nearly 71 percent after the break. Using its eighth different starting lineup this season, Sacramento had a season-best 45 field goals.

"We were missing DeMarcus, so we had a different lineup out there and it worked out tonight," said James Johnson, who made a rare start at power forward while Jason Thompson moved to center. "We were a small team tonight so we ran fast and played very unselfish."

Both Thornton and Salmons helped spark the second-half surge after both were relative non-factors in the opening half. The pair combined for 31 second-half points, helping the Kings pull away.

Thornton made 8 of 11 shots in the second half and finished with four rebounds and four assists. Salmons had 13 of his 15 points in the second half and also added seven rebounds and seven assists.

"John is a very unselfish player and can get his own shots," Thornton said. "He got going in the second half. Me and the first half didn't do so well. But I came on at the right time and got hot in the second half."

Already ahead by nine points, the Kings opened the fourth quarter with a 7-0 run, including a 3-pointer by Thornton, to build their lead to 87-71. The Blazers trailed by at least 12 the rest of the way.

"I just think it was one of those games where the other team played better than us," Portland rookie guard Damian Lillard said. "There probably were some defensive mistakes we made that we shouldn't have and they took advantage of it."

Former Blazer Travis Outlaw had a season-high 15 points and Isaiah Thomas added 11 for the Kings, who had lost six of their previous seven games. Both Thompson and Johnson chipped in 10 points.

"It's definitely fun playing against some former teammates," Outlaw said. "I wish I could go out and do it against other teams that well. Everybody got great looks at the rim tonight. We played very unselfish."

LaMarcus Aldridge had 22 points and 11 rebounds for the Blazers, who have lost two of three meetings with the Kings this season. Lillard had 15 points and seven assists, Nicolas Batum scored 17, and JJ Hickson had 14 points and 11 rebounds.

The Kings haven't said when Cousins will be allowed to rejoin the team again. He was told not to attend the game. Cousins is averaging team bests of 16.6 points and 9.5 rebounds.

"There are a few things we need to sit down and talk about," Smart said. "We have a couple of days before our next game and our executive staff will discuss things and go from there."

Sacramento also played without starting guard Tyreke Evans, who missed his fourth straight game with a sore left knee. Evans, the Kings second-leading scorer, has missed 8 of the past 12 games.

"I thought they played very well without their key players," Portland coach Terry Stotts said. "In this league when players are missing for whatever reasons the other players take that as an opportunity to play well."

The scoring of Thornton kept the Kings on top in the third quarter. The streak-shooting Thornton had 11 points and Brooks hit a 3-pointer at the buzzer, helping Sacramento carry an 80-71 lead into the fourth.

Outlaw keyed a second-quarter effort by Sacramento's reserves. He had 13 points and Thomas had eight points and five assists, helping the Kings outscore Portland 28-15 and take a 49-42 lead into halftime.

Trailing by 10 early in the second quarter, the Kings responded with a 15-0 run to take a 36-31 lead.

Notes: Portland made just 7 of 24 from 3-point range. ... Blazers starting guard Wesley Matthews has a left hip injury and didn't travel with the team. Seldom-used Victor Claver started in the Blazers backcourt. ... Outlaw's 13 points in the second quarter was two more than his season high entering the game. He scored 11 points against the Blazers in a Kings victory in Portland on Dec. 8. ... The two teams don't play again until Dec. 26 in Portland.

With gaping holes to fill, 2017 NBA Draft offers Kings several options

With gaping holes to fill, 2017 NBA Draft offers Kings several options

The Sacramento Kings walk into the 2017 offseason with gaping holes in their roster. Free agency will play a role, but before they get to spending their $60-plus million in cap space, Vlade Divac, Scott Perry, Ken Catanella and the rest of the front office will try to fill some of their needs via the draft.

While the first batch of draft prospects rolled through Sacramento late last week, Vlade Divac, along with European scout Predrag Drobnjak spent the weekend in Istanbul, Turkey at the European Championships. Sharpshooting guard Bogdan Bogdanovic led Fenerbahçe to its first title, further building the hype around one of Europe’s best young stars.

Divac acquired the rights to Bogdanovic in a draft day trade last summer when the 6-foot-6 Serbian was tossed in along with picks 13 and 28 for the 9th overall selection in the 2016 NBA Draft. Divac would love to entice the 24-year-old wing to play in the NBA next season.

Even if Bogdanovic buys in, the Kings need more.

Both Darren Collison and Ty Lawson are unrestricted free agents, leaving Langston Galloway as the only point guard on the roster. Rudy Gay has already informed the team that he intends to opt out of his $14.3 million player option for next season, opening a massive need at the small forward position.

The needs are clear. Sacramento has to find a point guard and small forward of the future. They also need a point guard and a small forward of the right now. If a player fits both now and in the future, so be it.

Lady luck shined brightly on the Kings during the draft lottery. A move from No. 8 to No. 3 would have guaranteed a point guard, but a pick swap to No. 5 still has Sacramento in the running to fill one of their biggest voids.

While plenty of mock drafts have a variety of players in the top five of the 2017 NBA Draft, there is a clear group that Sacramento will likely focus on. Barring a major trade, point guard Markelle Fultz out of the University of Washington is projected to go with the first overall selection, but then it’s wide open how the next four picks will unfold.

UCLA’s Lonzo Ball is projected to go to the Los Angeles Lakers at No. 2 in most mocks, but nothing is a sure bet. Small forwards Josh Jackson and Jayson Tatum are top five selections as well, while Kentucky point guard De’Aaron Fox is an early draft climber.

Sacramento would love nothing more than to see Fox sitting on the board when they select at five. He’s slight of build, but the 6-foot-3 speedster is a high character player with tons of potential. He would step in and instantly compete for a starting job with the Kings’ young core.

There are concerns that Fox won’t make it to five and the Kings have a few options if they want to move up, but the real question is, should they?

If Fox is gone, Sacramento will still have a player on the board at a position of need. Be it Ball, Jackson or Tatum, the talent pool is rich. Finding a floor general is important, but finding a star should be the top priority. All five have potential to become more than just a starter in the league and all five fit one of the team’s two most glaring weaknesses on the current roster.

Drafting either Jackson or Tatum would instantly bump the talent level of the team. Both are considered top tier prospects and for Sacramento, likely starters on Day 1.

Jackson is a catalyst type player and personality that brings energy, as well as a tremendous skill set. He can pass, rebound, play defense at a high level and score above the rim. He’ll be an instant fan favorite wherever he lands.

Tatum has potential as a two-way player, but his offensive game should instantly translate to the NBA level. A polished scorer, Tatum would step in and give the Kings a scoring option to fill the shoes of Gay, who is on the verge of becoming an unrestricted free agent.

The Top 10 has plenty of other high end prospects. Sacramento could chase a shooting big in Lauri Markkanen. The 7-footer out of Arizona would help to stretch the floor at the four, but their other needs are more obvious.

Fox’s backcourt mate at Kentucky, Malik Monk, is also an intriguing player, but with Buddy Hield, Garrett Temple, Malachi Richardson and the potential for Bogdanovic to join the team, the Kings are heavy at the shooting guard spot.

Point guard Dennis Smith has a high ceiling and would likely challenge for top five consideration if it wasn’t for a torn ACL in high school and some questions about his attitude.

If Sacramento selects a small forward with the fifth pick and Smith was still available when they choose again at No. 10, he becomes a lower risk proposition the Kings might have to consider.

Point guard Frank Ntilikina out of France would fit the bill as well in the right situation. If the Kings land Jackson or Tatum at five, they could come back with Ntilikina at 10. He’s young and inexperienced, but he also stands at 6-foot-5 with a 7-foot wingspan. His defensive potential at the point is tremendous, but he is a project on the offensive end, not a polished player like the four point guards expected to go ahead of him in the draft.

Combo forward Jonathan Isaac is an appealing prospect, but he’ll need plenty of time to develop and he’s a better target if he somehow slips to 10. Like Smith and Ntilikina, this would be a nice addition if the Kings fill their other need with the fifth overall selection.

Regardless of how they got to No.’s 5 and 10, the Kings are in a good spot. They have options and plenty of players at positions of need and there is potential to land a future star. Once the draft rolls around on June 22, the focus will quickly shift to shoring up the remainder of the squad. With two high picks, the potential addition of Bogdanovic and plenty of cap space, the Kings are primed for a big time roster overhaul this summer.

Joerger: Rebuilding Kings hope to make the playoffs in...

Joerger: Rebuilding Kings hope to make the playoffs in...

The Kings' playoff drought is at 11 years and according to head coach Dave Joerger, it's going to last a few more years.

Speaking on Sirius XM NBA Radio on Tuesday, Joerger was asked about the differences between his coaching gigs with Sacramento and Memphis, and outlined the Kings' timeline for reaching the postseason.

"It's different. It's been a great learning experience for me. It's going to be an interesting process. You know, three years from now we hope to be in the playoffs. And so how do we do that? We were just talking about Memphis and it's the same thing. So if you're management, there's a couple times a year, two or three times that are really hot. Trade deadline, draft, free agency, boom, boom, boom. We're in Memphis sitting there getting 50 wins a year. Okay, maybe the trade deadline came and went, maybe we got a guy, maybe not, not too stressful. Get the 23rd, 24th pick in the draft," Joerger said.

"It's different now. In this situation, it's a higher pick, now free agency has a little bit more focus on it. So how we execute in free agency, how we execute our draft picks and how we execute at the trade deadline as this thing builds, you try to go too fast, you can make mistakes. But I think slow and steady wins the race," Joerger concluded.

So Kings fans can look forward to the 2019-20 season when the team returns to the playoffs.

Joerger is at the helm of a Kings team that is in full rebuild mode. The team traded center DeMarcus Cousins during the All-Star break and turned the team over to several first and second-year players. They posted a 32-50 record during the 2016-17 season, good for a third-place finish in the Pacific Division.

The Kings hold the No. 5, 10 and 34 picks in the upcoming 2017 NBA Draft and will add to their stable of young players.