Kings look to stay above .500 against Cavaliers
These are rare times for the Sacramento Kings, and in a good way for a team that last reached the playoffs in 2005-06, which is also the last time they finished with a winning record.
After dominating the first stop on a four-game trip by beating the Phoenix Suns, the Kings own a winning record at any point in December for the first time since Dec. 8, 2014.
It is significantly longer since they were two games over .500 at any point in December, and the Kings hope to get there Friday night when they visit the Cleveland Cavaliers, who are on the verge of becoming the NBA’s fourth team to 20 games.
Since winning 44 games in 2005-06 and losing in the first round to San Antonio, Sacramento (12-11) is over .500 in December for the fourth time.
They were 11-10 following a 101-92 win against Utah nearly four years ago, but then coach Mike Malone was fired three games later and the Kings finished with 28 wins. The last time the Kings were two games over .500 at any point in December was when they were 8-6 on Dec. 1, 2006, under coach Eric Musselman, who won 33 games in his lone season.
“I just think that’s big for us,” Kings guard Buddy Hield told reporters after Tuesday’s 122-105 win at Phoenix. “We’re a young group (and this gives us) confidence moving forward to the next game so we can go out there with the right mindset and be able to do the same thing we did here.”
Sacramento’s high-water mark so far has been three games over when it won six of its first nine games. Since scoring 146 points in a 29-point win at Atlanta on Nov. 1, the Kings are 6-8 in their last 14 games.
Last season, the Kings did not get their 12th win until they beat Cleveland in their 34th game on Dec. 27. Two years ago, the 12th win occurred in the 29th game of the season when Sacramento beat Utah.
The last time Sacramento won at least 12 of its first 23 games occurred in 2004-05 when it won 16 of the first 23 in its last 50-win season.
The Kings are over .500 after they outscored Phoenix 36-9 in the opening quarter.
Leading the defensive charge for the Kings was Willie Cauley-Stein, who held rookie center Deandre Ayton to 10 points. Sacramento allowed fewer than 110 points for the fifth time and did so after a lengthy practice on Monday focused on defensive drills.
“We were locked in,” Sacramento coach Dave Joerger said. “We had a good workout, cleaned up some stuff yesterday. We did a much better job defending, which makes it a lot easier to get out and run.”
Rookie Marvin Bagley III sat out for a second straight game with back spasms and is day-to-day. Bagley is averaging 13 points for the season and 16.3 points over his last six games.
Cleveland is 5-19 in its first season since LeBron James joined the Los Angeles Lakers in free agency. The Cavaliers stopped a four-game losing streak with a 99-97 win in Brooklyn on Monday but allowed Stephen Curry to make nine 3-pointers and score 42 points in Wednesday’s 129-105 loss to the Golden State Warriors.
Since entering the starting lineup on Nov. 1, Sexton is averaging 15.9 points and shooting 45 percent (113 of 251) overall and 53.1 percent (17 of 32) on 3-pointers. He also is connecting on 43.9 percent (50 of 114) of mid-range shots in those contests, but coach Larry Drew is hoping to see more 3-point attempts.
Cleveland is last in the league in 3-point attempts with 569. During a stretch of five games where the Cavs have not exceeded 105 points, they are shooting 31.7 percent (46 of 145) from behind the arc.
“Right now we take a lot of long 2s,” Drew told reporters after his team missed 11 of 12 3-point attempts in the second half Wednesday. “We just have to be more conscious of looking at those 3-point opportunities. When we get good looks, I want guys who are 3-point shooters to let it go. It does hurt a little bit not having Kevin (Love), but we have to be mindful of situations, where we are and how we can go about creating more 3s.”
Another area the Cavaliers are hoping to improve is sharing the ball. The Cavs totaled 17 assists Wednesday, and are last in assists at 19 per game. Wednesday was the 14th time they were held under 20 assists.
Despite the struggles in 3-point shooting and moving the ball, Jordan Clarkson and Tristan Thompson are playing well of late for Cleveland. Clarkson scored 17 points to reach double figures for the 22nd time on Wednesday, while Thompson posted his fourth straight double-double and 14th overall with 14 points and 19 rebounds.