Rewind: Role players step up, lift Kings to win in Denver

Rewind: Role players step up, lift Kings to win in Denver

When you’re in the hunt, every game matters. Tuesday’s 120-113 win over the Denver Nuggets gave the Sacramento Kings a tiny bit of breathing room in the eighth spot in the Western Conference before they return home for a seven-game homestand.

It’s not often that you’ve heard Kings player talk in January about playoff chances over the last decade. But Sacramento holds a game lead over the Portland Trail Blazers and with the win, a game and a half lead over Denver and they get an opportunity to strengthen their position Wednesday against a depleted Miami Heat team.

“I think we just came out with a sense of urgency,” DeMarcus Cousins told reporters following the game. “We knew how important this game was. This is a team we are battling with for the eighth spot. Of course this is an important win because it can matter at the end of the year.”

Cousins put up big numbers, as he has in almost every game this season. But the story of this win was season-high performances from Arron Afflalo, Darren Collison and Kosta Koufos.

Afflalo missed the previous three games with a strained right elbow, but showed no ill effects against his former team. The veteran shooting guard went off for 19 points on 8-of-11 shooting, using a variety of post moves and even hitting two 3-pointers in the win.

“It’s always fun to play in a familiar building, but we’re in a tight race this year and I just wanted to come back and be ready to play,” Afflalo told CSN’s Kayte Christensen after the game.

Collison had a nice game over the weekend against the Grizzlies, but one night doesn’t end a slump. He built off the Memphis performance with 26 points on 10-of-16 shooting. He got his offense going early and then focused on getting his teammates involved in the third quarter.

“Before these last couple of games, I know I took a step back mentally, kind of deferring to the offense,” Collison said in postgame. “But they told me, ‘it starts with me, you’ve got to be aggressive,’ like I had been earlier in the season, so I’m getting back to that.”

With reserve point guard Ty Lawson out due to injury, Collison finished the night with a team-high seven assists and only turned the ball over twice in 36 minutes of action.  

“They were huge,” Cousins said. “Arron, to come in and play like that off of injury was huge for us. DC finally got rolling. He’s been struggling a little bit of late, but he came in, played with confidence and had a big game for us.”  

Not to be forgotten, Koufos started 81 games for the 57-win 2012-13 Denver team and looked completely comfortable in his old stomping grounds. The 7-footer hit a young, but talented Nuggets frontline with a season-high 18 points on 8-of-9 shooting and chipped in five rebounds.

It was a team effort. Garrett Temple scored all eight of his points in the fourth and finished the night with six rebounds, five assists and two steals. When the Kings needed a basket to stem the tide, Anthony Tolliver found the bottom of the net and Ben McLemore dropped in two 3-balls in the third quarter when the temperature of the game turned up.

“I’ll be the first one to say that we’re not a perfect team,” Cousins said. “We’re not a team that’s going to come out and blow out teams on a nightly basis, but we have to come and approach games the right way on a nightly basis. We got to grind it out, we’ve got to play together, we’ve got to defend at a high level all four quarters or games are going to be tough to win.”

A Denver-Sacramento road-and-home back-to-back is never easy, but the Kings get a Miami Heat team Wednesday night that is also playing a back-to-back after falling in Phoenix on Tuesday. If the Kings want to talk playoffs, they need to show up for games against lesser opponents, regardless of the circumstance.
 

Calipari sees Labissiere's progress during rookie season: 'I give Sac credit'

Calipari sees Labissiere's progress during rookie season: 'I give Sac credit'

Nothing has come easy for Skal Labissiere. He survived the earthquakes in Haiti. He moved to the United States speaking only only French and Haitian Creole as a young teenager. And his lone season at Kentucky he went from a top five prospect to a player that nearly fell out of the first round.

The knock on Labissiere coming out of Kentucky was that he didn’t like contact. Maybe it went farther than that, but there was no question that when he left for the NBA, he didn’t exactly walk away on the best of terms with head coach John Calipari.

When the Kings took on the Los Angeles Lakers at the Staples Center in the final week of the regular season, Calipari sat in the stands watching a small group of his former players. During the telecast, NBC Sports California’s Kayte Christensen caught up with the legendary coach and he couldn’t stop gushing about his Wildcats alums, specifically the play of Labissiere.

“I look at Skal and the progress - I give Sac credit,” Calipari told Christensen. “These guys are working with him. He’s playing more confident. They’re putting him in positions he can have success. I didn’t do as good a job as they did.”

Labissiere went off for 19 points on 8-of-13 shooting against Los Angeles. He added three rebounds and two blocks, but the Kings stumbled down the stretch, allowing the Lakers to come away with the 98-94 victory.

In his freshman season at Kentucky, Labissiere scored more than 19 points just once, a 26 point outburst in his second game of the year against NJIT (New Jersey Institute of Technology). His highwater mark in his rookie season for the Kings was a 32-point, 11-rebound performance against the Phoenix Suns on March 15.

“He’s getting stronger, he’s growing, you can see him maturing physically, which was a big part of it,” Calipari said. “He had a good season with us, but, I used him wrong. Now I see him now, it’s amazing he’ll speak for me after I’m watching him play like this.”

The 21-year-old power forward has a smile that lights up a room. He even uses it as a defense mechanism when things get uncomfortable. Speaking about his time in Kentucky seems uncomfortable for the 6-foot-11 forward.

“Coach Cal, he does a really good job of getting guys ready for the next level,” Labissiere told NBC Sports California. “I appreciate him.”

Labissiere is looking ahead, not backwards. He is a an incredible talent and he is thankful for the job that Dave Joerger and his staff have done with him during his first season in the NBA.

“Coach Joerger, every since I was drafted here, he’s always believed in me,” Labissiere said. “He’s always putting me in the right positions, making me work on different things that normally I didn’t do in college. He’s making me do different things and believing in me. I love playing for him.”

Kentucky has produced some of the best big men in the game, including DeMarcus Cousins, Anthony Davis and Karl-Anthony Towns. It’s a hotbed for talent, but specifically for centers and power forwards that take their game to the next level in the pros.

Labissiere would love to be included in that list, but he isn’t trying to be someone he’s not. His focus is on improving and helping his team win games.

“I don’t know, I’m just working for myself, doing what I’m supposed to do,” Labissiere said. “If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t. I’m just going to keep doing my thing.”

The Kings have big plans for Labissiere and the rest of their young core this summer. Labissiere will likely join the team’s three other 2016 first round picks in Las Vegas for Summer League in July. Another two or three rookies from the 2017 NBA Draft will likely join them as Sacramento attempts to build some early chemistry amongst.

Following Summer League, Labissiere is scheduled to travel to Haiti where he will hold a basketball camp in his home country. It’s the first time he’s been back to Haiti since moving to the US following the earthquake in 2010.

Labissiere wasn’t the only Kentucky product on display for Sacramento against the Lakers. Willie Cauley-Stein spent three seasons under Calipari before going sixth overall in the 2015 NBA Draft.

Cauley-Stein put up solid numbers in front of his former coach, finishing the game against the Lakers with 14 points, seven rebounds and three blocks in just 23 minutes of action.

“Willie is doing what he does,” Calipari said. “He’s flying up and down that floor, he’s blocking shots. He seems to have some freedoms to do some of the stuff he does well.”

Cauley-Stein is a completely different player two season removed from his time at Kentucky. He finished strong down the stretch for Sacramento, showing a newfound confidence in his scoring ability.

“It’s a great feeling, I don’t think he’s watched me play like that since I left,” Cauley-Stein said. “It was cool to get a chance to see him and show him things I’ve worked on and I’ve gotten better. It was really satisfying, [him] telling me I got better, so I know I’m [going] in the right direction.”

It’s clear that Labissiere and Cauley-Stein had a very different experience at Kentucky. The end result might work out just fine for the Sacramento Kings. The duo played alongside one another for plenty of games down the stretch as the team’s starting frontcourt. It’s a look Kings fans might get used to seeing going forward.

 

Source: Kings hire Perry as Executive VP of Basketball Operations

Source: Kings hire Perry as Executive VP of Basketball Operations

SACRAMENTO -- The changes keep coming in Sacramento. NBC Sports California has confirmed that the Kings have hired former Orlando Magic executive, Scott Perry, to fill the role of Executive Vice President of Basketball Operations.

Perry will report directly to Vlade Divac, who will retain final say in player personnel decisions.

Perry spent the last five seasons in Orlando as Vice President of Basketball Operations and Assistant General Manager. He was let go from the Magic last week following the dismissal of General Manager Rob Hennigan.

Perry, 53, began his career as an executive with the Detroit Pistons where he held the position of Director of Player Personnel from 2000-2007. He briefly left the Pistons, joining the Seattle Supersonics organization as an Assistant General Manager of the team for the 2007-08 season, before spending another four years as Detroit’s Vice President of Basketball Operations from 2008-2012.

Highly regarded around the league, Perry adds another experienced basketball mind to the Kings front office.

During his postseason media availability last week, Vlade Divac spoke openly about his willingness to accept additional help.

“We’re open always to improve - the team, the front office, everything is open for improvement,” Divac said. “I’m very happy and confident in what we have right now, but like I said, we should be open if something can you better.”

With the addition of Luke Bornn on Wednesday to head up the team’s analytics department, and Perry on Friday, the Kings appear to be building a stronger infrastructure as they move into a full youth movement.

Adrian Wojnarowski of The Vertical was first with the information.