SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Maybe the sky won’t be falling on the Sacramento Kings anytime soon. They certainly don’t seem to think it will.
“It feels good,” coach Dave Joerger said after watching his new collection of players in their first game. “There’s a good vibe.”
It’s different, that’s for sure. The departure of franchise forward DeMarcus Cousins — still big news in this town five days after his trade to the New Orleans Pelicans — has created uncertainty about Sacramento’s ability or desire to win, but the Kings ripped the Denver Nuggets 116-100 on Thursday in their first contest since Sunday’s big deal.
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Now comes a chance to generate some real momentum. Sacramento (25-33) faces the Charlotte Hornets on Saturday at the Golden 1 Center. The Hornets (24-33) limp into town with five straight losses and 12 defeats in their past 13 games, including Thursday’s 114-108 overtime loss at Detroit.
The Hornets’ late-game defensive woes continued in their latest defeat. Charlotte allowed the Pistons to outscore them 44-28 in the fourth quarter and overtime and missed 14 of its first 15 shots in the fourth quarter.
“This is a tough league,” Hornets guard Kemba Walker told reporters.
The Kings won’t argue. They’re trying to end a 10-year playoff drought and trail the Nuggets by a half-game for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference with slightly less than one-third of the season left.
They have won four straight at home, their longest hot streak in their home building since the 2012-13 season.
After Charlotte come home games against the Minnesota Timberwolves (22-35) and Brooklyn Nets (9-47).
“We’re trying to bring the same kind of intensity every game for the next 24,” Kings center Willie Cauley-Stein said. “That’s all we’re really focused on. That outcome of the game is just going to come by how hard we’re playing and the intensity we have on defense.”
Cauley-Stein scored a career-high 29 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in 35 minutes off the bench in his first game since the Cousins trade. Rookie Skal Labissiere, like Cauley-Stein a Kentucky product, scored a career-best 12 points.
Buddy Hield, the key player acquired in the Cousins’ deal, added 15 points in the win. In all, he and Tyreke Evans, a former King who was acquired along with Langston Galloway in the deal for Cousins, combined for 31 points on 10-for-18 shooting with 10 rebounds and four assists.
“It’s their opportunity,” Kings guard Darren Collison said. “This is their team. They’ve got to step up to the plate. We’re going to be there to help them out, and it feels good to see them have that success.”
The Kings will have to slow down Walker and center Frank Kaminsky. Walker scored 26 points and dished seven assists in the Hornets’ 109-106 loss to the Kings on Jan. 28. Kaminsky was held to eight points in that game but has scored in double-digits in eight of nine games since, including four in a row. He is averaging 16.2 points and 5.4 rebounds during that stretch.
Forward Cody Zeller (quad) is questionable for the Hornets, while forward Miles Plumlee (right calf strain) will miss his second straight game. Forward Arron Afflalo (hamstring tightness) is questionable for Sacramento.