Kings fall to Thunder despite fourth quarter surge

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Kings fall to Thunder despite fourth quarter surge

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OKLAHOMA CITY -- There was no coasting to a 10-game winning streak for Kevin Durant and the Oklahoma City Thunder.

Up by 24 in the fourth quarter, it looked as if Durant and fellow All-Star Russell Westbrook were going to rest for most of the final period.

The Sacramento Kings had another idea, forcing Oklahoma City to make one more push.

Durant scored 31 points, Serge Ibaka added 18 points and 11 rebounds and the Thunder's starters had to make a late appearance to hold off the Kings for a 113-103 victory on Friday night.

It's the franchise's longest winning streak since November 1996, when it won 11 in a row as the Seattle SuperSonics.

"It's good. We're 19-4 and we just want to look at the bigger picture instead of winning streaks," said sixth man Kevin Martin, who had 18 points. "We're a pretty talented team, so we're just taking baby steps and getting better every day."

Sacramento closed to 103-98 thanks to Isaiah Thomas, who scored all 26 of his points in the final 13 1/2 minutes. He had four 3-pointers, a layup and a jumper during a 23-4 comeback attempt by the Kings.

Thunder coach Scott Brooks had already emptied his bench, but ended up calling timeout with 4:17 remaining to put his starters back in.

"It was just a little frustration that they came back because I thought we were playing so well," Durant said. "You have tough stretches like that. I was just more frustrated that we gave up the lead."

Durant, Westbrook and Ibaka got the call to come back after Sacramento had cut the deficit to 10. Durant missed his first shot and Westbrook didn't even catch the rim on his first attempt, with Thomas running right through the defense for a layup in between.

Jimmer Fredette's three free throws with 3:21 left made it 103-98, but that's as close as it got. Fredette couldn't connect on a 3-pointer or a drive to the basket, and Thomas also missed a 3 as Oklahoma City regained its footing.

Durant recovered the ball after getting stripped and dropped in a layup before back-to-back Ibaka baskets extended the lead to 109-98.

"We made it tough, but Scottie has that luxury over there to call the big dogs back into the game," Sacramento coach Keith Smart said. "I thought our guys played and competed."

Durant wrote "Newtown, CT" on both of his shoes as a reference to the deadly school shooting in Connecticut earlier in the day. The three-time NBA scoring champion said it hit him particularly hard because he has a goddaughter who just started kindergarten and cousins in the first and second grades.

A moment of silence was held during the pregame prayer.

"I've got family members that young. Just to see kids that really couldn't do nothing for themselves, couldn't protect themselves and for their lives to be taken away and for their parents to go through stuff like that, that's the least I could do," Durant said.

"I wish I could do more. But it hit me really hard. It's tough to see, especially kids that couldn't do anything for themselves. Words can't even describe it. I'm kind of at a loss for words right now."

Tyreke Evans had 21 points and Jason Thompson finished with 15 for Sacramento, which was outrebounded 43-29.

Westbrook had 13 points and 13 assists for Oklahoma City.

After falling behind by 20 late in the first half, the Kings scored the first seven points in the third quarter and a couple minutes later cut the deficit to 65-55 following back-to-back 3-pointers by Aaron Brooks and John Salmons.

The margin was 12 when Smart called a timeout to prevent DeMarcus Cousins from attempting to take the ball coast to coast, then ripped into his players. Whatever he said didn't seem to provide much inspiration. The Thunder restored their 20-point cushion on Martin's two free throws with 9:46 remaining.

"There was a little arguing here and there, but it happens on every team," Thomas said. "Through the toughest times, you've got to know that the guy next to you is going to be all you've got and we've got to learn that."

Martin's layup pushed the lead to 99-75 just after seldom-used reserve Reggie Jackson entered for Oklahoma City. DeAndre Liggins, who plays even less, came in shortly thereafter.

The starters weren't quite done yet, and Durant said part of the blame for the comeback should fall on them.

"I'd date that back to the stat of the third. The starters have got to do a better job of coming out with more energy the first 5 minutes. Then maybe that wouldn't have happened in the fourth," Durant said. "We gave them a little bit of confidence going into that fourth. We just have to be better, and I think we will."

Martin had bookend 3-pointers in a 22-4 surge that put Oklahoma City firmly in control in the second quarter. Ibaka and Durant both had two-handed dunks during the run, and Durant also converted a 3-pointer and two free throws.

The Kings went 2 for 9 and committed four turnovers during the stretch before Kendrick Perkins delivered a firm screen to get Martin open for his 3-pointer to make it 56-36 with 2:37 left in the first half.

Sacramento led for just 39 seconds in the game, following a three-point play by Evans late in the first quarter. Martin hit a pair of free throws two possessions later to start a string of seven straight Thunder points, and Oklahoma City didn't trail again.

NOTES: Reserve guard Marcus Thornton was not with Sacramento for a second straight game for personal reasons. ... The Kings are the only Western Conference team that hasn't beaten the Thunder in Oklahoma City. ... Center Daniel Orton and guard Jeremy Lamb were assigned to Oklahoma City's NBA Development League affiliate in Tulsa before the game.

Cauley-Stein gets rare opportunity, delivers in Kings' win

Cauley-Stein gets rare opportunity, delivers in Kings' win

There was a Willie Cauley-Stein sighting Monday in Detroit. It’s become a rarity this season to see the Sacramento Kings’ 2015 first-round draft pick play substantial minutes in coach Dave Joerger’s rotation. But the bench is getting lean and Cauley-Stein answered the bell.

“He’s putting in his work and had an opportunity,” Joerger told media members following the Kings’ 109-104 win over the Pistons. “He went and got balls out of his area, which is important for a guy that athletic.”

The former 6th overall selection has played in just 37 games this season, sitting out seven contests as a healthy scratch. He’s posting 4.2 points and 2.1 rebounds in 11 minutes a night, but with both Rudy Gay and Omri Casspi sidelined, Cauley-Stein is getting a look.

It’s been difficult for the former Kentucky star. He knows he’s on a short a leash. He doesn’t have time to settle into the game, it’s zero-60 in five seconds or the bench is calling.

“I just try to maintain a mentality of just going in, going really hard, making sure I’m talking to the guards on different plays,” Cauley-Stein told reporters in Detroit. “Just trying to stay mentally right on it.”

After playing in multiple variations of the “dribble-drive motion offense,” both in college and in his rookie season in Sacramento under George Karl, the 7-footer has had to relearn the game of basketball under Joerger. It’s a difficult path to minutes, but Cauley-Stein can be seen working overtime almost everyday.

“The amount of work I’ve been putting in, it’s starting to show, it’s starting to pay off,” Cauley-Stein said. “I’m starting to get the trust of my teammates and my coaches behind me and that’s everything in this game.”

Following practice, Cauley-Stein can be seen working with big man coach Bob Thornton. When he is done there, he goes to assistant Larry Lewis for more skill work and then there are the 3-on-3 games with Ben McLemore and the rookies.

He can be seen in pregame working on his handles alongside McLemore and the coaching staff and he spent plenty of time over the summer working on his shooting stroke with Peja Stojakovic.

“It’s a great feeling to know when you put it down, you’ve got complete control where it’s going,” Cauley-Stein said. “It’s the same thing with your shot. The more and more you work on it, the more and more it just comes second hand. Right now it all feels good for me.”

Cauley-Stein had a breakout 12 points and five rebounds against the Pistons on Monday. He was active and even took All-Star center Andre Drummond off the dribble for a huge two-handed dunk.

A defensive specialist by nature, Cauley-Stein still has a long way to go before he is ready to be a major cog in Joerger’s high-post offense. But at 23 years old and under team control for at least another two seasons, there is still time to salvage the quirky big man.

The Kings need Cauley-Stein to develop into a tireless worker on the glass and a player that does the little things. He still has plenty of upside and tremendous length and athleticism. He’s doing the work and earned another shot at playing minutes on the frontline next to DeMarcus Cousins and Kosta Koufos.

More nights like the one in Detroit would go a long way towards earning the trust of Joerger and his staff.

Kings' Cousins: 'Only goal this season' is to make playoffs

Kings' Cousins: 'Only goal this season' is to make playoffs

With their 109-104 victory over the Detroit Pistons on Monday night, the Sacramento Kings sit 10 games under .500 at 17-27. In almost any other season, that would mean that they were dead in the water in the Western Conference playoff race. But this it the 2016-17 season where anything is possible at the bottom.

Following Sacramento’s win at the Palace at Auburn Hills, DeMarcus Cousins was asked about the playoff picture.

“It’s my only goal this season,” Cousins told reporters following the game. “My only goal.” 

When pushed on the subject, he gave a more complete answer.

“Oh man, it’s eating me alive - every loss or every time another team wins that’s battling for the eighth spot, it’s eating me alive,” Cousins added. “Our only goal is to be in the playoffs this season.”

The Kings snapped a five-game losing streak with the win over the Pistons and they came into the evening just 2-10 over their previous 12 games. 

Once they get through their current eight game road trip, they spend the entire month of February in the Pacific time zone and play 11 over their next 13 games at Golden 1 Center.  

“The one thing I can give credit to this team about is us staying together and being a positive locker room through the ups and downs,” Cousins said. “I’m still confident and I still believe we’re going to make that push for the playoffs.”

Despite the rough patch, the Kings remain just a game and a half out of the eighth spot in the Western Conference standings. No one is running away with that last playoff spot, at least not yet.