Kings yield Clippers' twelfth straight win

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Kings yield Clippers' twelfth straight win

BOX SCORE

LOS ANGELES -- Chris Paul had 24 points and 13 assists to help the Los Angeles Clippers, for decades synonymous with long losing streaks, break a 38-year-old franchise record with their 12th consecutive victory Friday night, 97-85 over the Sacramento Kings.

The previous mark was set by the Buffalo Braves during the 1974-75 season, when current Clippers coach Vinny Del Negro was 8 years old. The head coach back then was Jack Ramsay, whose formidable roster included Bob McAdoo, Garfield Heard, Randy Smith, Jim McMillian, Jack Marin and Bob Weiss.

That team won 49 games - still a record for a beleaguered organization that has called three different cities home, wasted first-round draft picks on Benoit Benjamin, Terry Dehere, Michael Olowokandi and Darius Miles, and was labeled "the worst franchise in sports history" by Sports Illustrated in an April 17, 2000, cover story.

Blake Griffin had 21 points and 13 rebounds for the Clippers, who have had 20 double-digit losing streaks since their 11-game winning streak in Buffalo - including a dozen of 12 or more. They lost their first 16 in 1994-95, their first 17 of the lockout-shortened 1988-89 season, and the final 14 in 1986-87. The club record for consecutive defeats is 19, set in 1981-82 and equaled in 1988-89.

But those dark days are history thanks to the arrival of Griffin, the blockbuster trade that brought Paul from the New Orleans Hornets last December, and a bench that is arguably the deepest in the NBA. The Clippers, who have the league's longest active winning streak, also own the NBA's second-best record at 20-6 and trail Oklahoma City by just one game.

This is the earliest the Clippers' franchise has ever reached the 20-win mark, and only the sixth time they did it with a winning record - including a 20-11 start last season. The previous club record in that department also was set in 1974-75, when the Braves started out 20-8. Just four seasons ago the Clips finished 19-63 under Mike Dunleavy.

Los Angeles beat Sacramento for the fifth straight time - including all three meetings last season. The Clippers haven't lost to anyone since Nov. 26 at Staples Center, when New Orleans beat them 105-98 and held Griffin to four points and one field goal - both career lows.

Reserve guard Jimmer Fredette had 16 points for Sacramento, which is 1-11 on the road. DeMarcus Cousins was benched for the entire second half by coach Keith Smart, who ordered him to remain in the dressing room after he scored nine points in 20 minutes.

The Kings, who had their highest-scoring game of the season Wednesday night in a 131-127 home win against Golden State, have dropped six of seven. Tyreke Evans missed his third straight game and eighth in the last 12 because of a sore left knee. He also was sidelined for the Kings' 116-81 loss at Los Angeles on Dec. 1, when the Clippers posted their largest margin of victory since the franchise left Buffalo.

Caron Butler's 3-pointer gave Los Angeles its biggest lead, 58-41, with 10:05 left in the third quarter. The Kings narrowed the gap to 63-57 with a 16-5 run capped by Fredette's 3-pointer with 4:25 left in the quarter, but that was as close as they got. Paul helped put the game away with a pair of 3-pointers in the final 4 minutes.

Griffin powered the Clippers to a 53-39 halftime lead with 16 points and eight boards. Power forward Jason Thompson, the only player to start all 26 games for Sacramento, fouled him twice during a 1:23 span and went to the bench with 7:48 left in the first quarter. The Clippers then pulled ahead 20-11 with a 9-1 spurt that included a pair of 20-footers by Griffin, and Paul drained a 3-pointer with a second on the clock for a 29-21 advantage.

Ronny Turiaf, who earlier in the game shot an air ball on a free throw and got some good-natured ribbing from his Clippers teammates on the bench, extended the lead to 43-28 with a fast-break dunk right after 6-foot-1 guard Eric Bledsoe blocked a layup by 6-10 Kings forward Thomas Robinson at the other end.

NOTES: The teams the Clippers have beaten during this streak have a combined winning percentage of .401 (116-173). The Kings (8-18) are the only team they have faced twice in that stretch. ... The Clippers are at Phoenix on Saturday night, trying to break a franchise-record road winning streak of five - by those same `74-75 Braves. ... The Buffalo Braves' winning streak included neutral-site games against the Boston Celtics at Providence, R.I., and the Philadelphia 76ers at Toronto. ... The Los Angeles Lakers, who share Staples Center with the Clippers, haven't won 12 or more games in a row during one season since 1999-00, when they had streaks of 16 and 19. ... Matt Barnes, who played high school ball in Sacramento and spent part of the 2004-05 season with the Kings, had 13 points. The Clippers are 14-0 when he scores in double digits off the bench. ... Los Angeles is 17-0 when leading after three quarters, and 15-0 when holding an opponent under 43 percent shooting. The Kings shot 41.8 percent. ... Fredette missed a free throw with 3:48 remaining, ending his streak at 33 in a row.

Nuggets' Malone plays what if game with Kings, takes jab at ownership

Nuggets' Malone plays what if game with Kings, takes jab at ownership

SACRAMENTO -- It seems like yesterday that Michael Malone was leading a Sacramento Kings team featuring DeMarcus Cousins, Isaiah Thomas and Rudy Gay into battle every night. Less than three years later, only Gay remains with the franchise and he’s out for the season with a torn left Achilles. 

Thomas left in a lopsided trade that yielded Sacramento Alex Oriakhi and a trade exception during the summer of 2014. Malone was let go with an 11-13 record 24 games into the 2014-15 campaign after Cousins went down with a bout of viral meningitis. Cousins is now a member of the New Orleans Pelicans following a blockbuster trade on Sunday.

“I always go back and think - ‘what could have happened if myself, DeMarcus, Isaiah, a healthy Rudy, if we were all together?,’” Malone told a small group of reporters before shootaround on Thursday. “We’ll never know, but I like to think that a lot of positive things would have happened, because I felt like we had something good going here. And it wasn’t to be.”

Malone’s reputation as a defense-minded coach played into his firing. At the time, owner Vivek Ranadivé used musical metaphors to describe what he was looking for in his next head coach.

“We had a Sousa marching band, which was needed when there was chaos, but now we need to shift to a jazz band, where people can be individually showcased and improvised,” Ranadivé said. “What we need is a jazz director.”

Malone is back in Sacramento Thursday night as the head coach of the Denver Nuggets and he’s looking for his first win against his former club in his fifth opportunity. He also heads a group that leads the Kings by a game and a half in the standings and boasts the NBA’s fourth highest scoring average at 110.6 points per game. 

“I can’t remember all the things that were said when I was fired, because there was so much being said,” Malone stated. “But I know one of the things that was being said was ‘style of play.’ There were people that were not in my corner that used that as a way to get me fired. Now we’re one of the highest scoring teams in NBA.”

“I look at you people, you were wrong,” a smiling Malone added while looking directly into a news camera. 

Known for his ability to connect to Cousins, Malone was as shocked as anyone to hear that the Kings traded the talented 26-year-old. The two have remained close, despite no longer working together.

“That was definitely a surprise over All-Star break,” Malone said. “Surprise for me, even a bigger surprise for him from what I understand.”

Malone has very little time to worry about his former player. He has to prepare his Nuggets team for a new-look Kings roster that has played a gritty, hard-nosed style all season long. With 26 games remaining, his team sits in the No. 8 seed in the Western Conference playoff chase and they face a team that is backed into a cormer.

“They have a chip on their shoulder,” Malone said. “You make a big trade like that and I’m sure the players in that locker room are going to say, ‘Everybody’s writing us off because we don’t have DeMarcus.’ They’re going to come out and try and prove everybody wrong. They beat Boston, a very good team, without DeMarcus, and I’m sure that’s the model they’re going to try to use moving forward.”

A straight shooter through and through, Malone spoke on a variety of topics before heading out to the floor to prep his team for the 7:30 start at Golden 1 Center. 

“I just want to get a win, period,” Malone said. “The grudge is gone, this is part of the business. I knew the rules when I signed up, I really did.”

Malone understood the reality of taking over a fledgling franchise under new ownership and management when he took the Kings job. Sacramento gave him his first head coaching opportunity in the league, which he is grateful for, but his departure was anything but clean. The grudge might be gone, but those who covered Malone during his time with the Kings know full-well that playing this franchise will always be personal. 

NBA Gameday: For Kings, life without Cousins begins against Nuggets

NBA Gameday: For Kings, life without Cousins begins against Nuggets

SACRAMENTO -- The Sacramento Kings begin the post All-Star break trailing the Denver Nuggets by just a game and a half for the eight seed in the Western Conference playoff race. But the game almost seems secondary to the drama surrounding the blockbuster trade that sent All-Star big man DeMarcus Cousins to the New Orleans Pelicans over the weekend.

With 25 games remaining, Dave Joerger has to figure out a way to balance his rotation, which now includes three new faces in Buddy Hield, Langston Galloway and Tyreke Evans. In addition to Cousins, Matt Barnes and Omri Casspi are also gone as the Kings hit the reboot button on a once promising season. 

Sacramento shopped other veteran players up until the end of Thursday's NBA trade deadline, but they chose to stand pat for the remainder of the season with their current group of 15.

Denver is clinging to a lead in the race for eight, but Sacramento, Portland, New Orleans, Dallas and Minnesota are all within four and a half games. Nikola Jokic has played extremely well in his second NBA season, giving Michael Malone a centerpiece to build around in the Nuggets high-powered offense.

OPENING LINE

Nuggets by 7

MATCHUP TO WATCH

Kings vs. The Unknown -- Cousins manned the post for the last seven years in Sacramento and now he plays for a new team. Coach Dave Joerger has to adapt on the fly if without his leading scorer, rebounder and assist man. Sacramento plays a gritty style and they have won without Cousins in limited opportunities, but this is different. They must reinvent themselves on the fly if they have any hope of finishing the final 25 games strong.

WHERE THEY STAND

Kings: 24-33, third place in Pacific

Nuggets: 25-31, third place in Northwest

INJURY REPORT

Kings: SG Malachi Richardson (right hamstring partial tear) and G/F Garrett Temple  (left hamstring partial tear) are out.

Nuggets: No injuries to report. All players participated in shootaround.  

SERIES HISTORY

After sweeping the season series 3-0 last year, Sacramento holds a 1-0 advantage over the Nuggets this year. The all-time series between these two teams is close, but the Kings hold an 87-86 lead after winning four straight and they are up on the Nuggets 64-61 lead during the Sacramento-era.

QUOTE

“They have a chip on their shoulder. You make a big trade like that and I’m sure the players in that locker room are going to say, ‘everybody’s writing us off because we don’t have DeMarcus.’ They’re going to come out and try and prove everybody wrong. They beat Boston, a very good team, without DeMarcus, and I’m sure that’s the model they’re going to try to use moving forward.” -Michael Malone