With their top two scorers out because of injuries, the Sacramento Kings looked to some of their role players to step up in their last game.
Though it didn’t result in a victory, the strong play of some of the team’s less-heralded guards may be beneficial moving forward, starting with Sunday night’s home contest versus the Denver Nuggets.
On Friday, the Kings played without DeMarcus Cousins (left ankle) and Rudy Gay (left Achilles). Those two combine for 42.7 points per game, and will both be game-time decisions against Denver, according to coach Michael Malone.
If Cousins and Gay are unable to go, Sacramento (15-27) will rely on Marcus Thornton and Isaiah Thomas once again. Thornton matched his career high with 42 points in Friday’s 116-111 overtime loss to Indiana, while Thomas had 38 points for the second time in four games.
"When you have 43 points sitting on the sidelines like Rudy and Cousins, somebody has to step up. I took it upon myself to be that guy," Thornton said.
The Kings will need all the offense they can get to keep up with the Nuggets, who are averaging 112.7 points in January – second-most in the league. On Saturday, Denver (21-21) took advantage of the Pacers having played five extra minutes in Sacramento the night before, shooting 48.2 percent in a 109-96 win.
Wilson Chandler led the way with a season-high 25 points and is averaging 21.0 in his last five games.
"’I was just being a little aggressive, and I was taking good shots,” Chandler said. ”I probably took one or two bad shots but I was being aggressive and taking good shots at the same time.”
The Nuggets like to run, and they may be able to do that often against a Kings defense that isn’t great at slowing teams down. Denver had 21 fast-break points against Indiana, and 23 points when they lost 90-88 at Sacramento on Oct. 30.
The Kings allow 14.8 fast-break points per game, among the most in the NBA. Malone was not pleased with how his team got back in transition Friday, as the Pacers scored 21 points on the break.
"If we have the same lapses (on Sunday) as we did (on Friday), they will score 35 or 40 fast-break points," Malone said of the Nuggets. "They run and attack every chance they get. … To me it starts and ends with Ty Lawson and his ability to push, attack, get into the paint and make plays for himself and his teammates."
Lawson said the matchup with the Kings "is going to be a fast-paced game. The same type of game we played (on Saturday) against the Pacers. We have to be able to get a lot of defensive stops."
Lawson had 20 in the first meeting against Sacramento as the Nuggets lost for the first time in 10 games in this series. Cousins led the way for the Kings with 30 points and 14 rebounds.
Thomas had 16 points off the bench in that meeting but Thornton struggled, missing five of six field-goal attempts and finishing with four points.