Kings hope new lineup keeps it up vs. Thunder
The controversial finish that gave the Sacramento Kings their first victory in five games caused one other aspect of a rare good night to get lost. Dave Joerger's new-look starting lineup delivered the better first quarter that Sacramento's first-year coach was looking for.
The Oklahoma City Thunder wouldn't mind a similar development on their side.
The Kings' new, smaller starting five -- center DeMarcus Cousins, guards Darren Collison and Ty Lawson, and forwards Rudy Gay and Matt Barnes -- put up 25 points in the opening quarter, got out on the run and helped the Kings to a 36-point first quarter against Toronto on Sunday.
They are expected to get an encore together Wednesday when the Kings (5-9) host the Thunder (8-7) at Golden 1 Center.
"It's a different look, but we're all pros," Gay said. "Everybody is capable of doing a lot of things out there. I'm not going to say one starting lineup is better than the other, but it worked. So we'll see how we do in the future."
The new look, with center Kosta Koufos on the bench after starting in the frontcourt with Cousins in 12 of Sacramento's first 13 games, seemed to unclog the middle. Lawson had more room to drive the key and kick out a pass, a strength of his game that had been missing. The faster tempo also freed Collison to get in the open floor, and he contributed three assists in the first three minutes en route to nine in 32.
The work of the starters became a bit of an oversight after the ending of the Kings' 102-99 victory. Official Mike Callahan ruled the game clock didn't start soon enough on Toronto's final inbounds pass, nullifying a 3-pointer by Terrence Ross that appeared to tie the game.
The Kings hope to take that break and their new lineup and run with it. The victory snapped a four-game losing streak.
"That's the team right there that I saw in the preseason that I got so excited about coaching," Joerger said. "A bunch of guys that care about each other and go and play really hard."
The Thunder didn't start well Thursday in a 111-109 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers, getting outscored 23-6 over the final seven minutes of the opening quarter. That loomed large after a late 10-0 run became a footnote when the Lakers' Nick George hit a winning 3-pointer with five seconds left.
Oklahoma City has lost six of eight since a 6-1 start and has surrendered an average of 31 points in the opening quarter over its past six contests. The Thunder have allowed at least 100 points in eight consecutive games.
Guard Russell Westbrook has put a lot of that blame on himself, even though a case could be made that he has been the NBA's best player so far this season. Westbrook scored 17 of his 34 points in the final quarter against the Lakers and added 13 assists and eight rebounds.
He told reporters the Thunder's early-game struggles have started with him: "I have to come out and be ready to play every night."
Westbrook is averaging nearly a triple-double, with 31.8 points, 10.6 assists and 9.6 rebounds.