David Zalubowski Associated Press Kings coach Keith Smart used 10 players in the first quarter of Saturday's loss to Denver.

Smart keeps tinkering with Kings' lineup

Published: Monday, Jan. 28, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 1C
Last Modified: Tuesday, Jan. 29, 2013 - 4:12 pm

WASHINGTON – Ten minutes into Saturday's game, Keith Smart was searching again.

The Denver Nuggets jumped out to a 20-point lead, and the Kings weren't doing much right.

So the lineup shuffle was in full effect with 10 players seeing time in the first quarter.

That's not how Smart wants to coach.

"I would love to get to a point where (the rotation is) ironclad and I don't change it at all," Smart said. "But that doesn't happen because you get to a point where nothing is happening on the floor, and I need some kind of energy or something on the floor, and thus you get another guy."

Jimmer Fredette goes from key contributor to not playing at all. Marcus Thornton led the Kings in scoring last season but has seen a decline in playing time.

Jason Thompson has played in every game this season, but he has shared time with Thomas Robinson and James Johnson and seen his playing time fluctuate.

Even the Kings' two best players, Tyreke Evans and DeMarcus Cousins, occasionally sit for what seems like an inordinate amount of time.

The unpredictability of the Kings' substitutions isn't ideal for Smart or his players.

"When things aren't going well, you want to change," guard Isaiah Thomas said. "That's what makes him play more and more players, I think … . Whatever decision he makes, you've got to trust it."

Things haven't gone well lately. The Kings have lost four in a row and five of six.

Evans and Cousins sat out the second quarter Saturday as Smart went with reserves to try to stymie the Nuggets.

Asked if he knew why he sat out the quarter, Evans said, "Not really. But he is the coach, and he made a decision. You can't do nothing about that. You've just got to be ready to play."

Smart knew months ago he'd have problems managing playing time and there would be games in which players he likes might not see action based on matchups.

"We have a lot of guys at the same type of positions, so I knew it was going to be tough," Smart said."You're just trying to find some kind of chemistry. We had it once and it was really, really positive, and we probably had our best stretch of playing games home and on the road during that time."

The Kings were 6-4 from Dec. 19 to Jan. 5. During that stretch, Evans was out with a sore left knee, and Thornton missed five games because of a sprained left ankle.

"We fell into a nice rhythm and rotation," Smart said. "Then you get some guys back that command more when they're playing, and now you're trying to incorporate them, and that part has been tough, trying to figure out which guys. Sometimes your best players aren't playing very well, but they're your best guys, so you have to try to give them that opportunity to get themselves going again."

Evans has had trouble getting back into a flow, partly because he's not playing the 35-plus minutes he'd like.

"The rhythm for me is a little bit off," Evans said. "I know he wants to play everybody. Just sometimes it's frustrating trying to get in rhythm."

Smart would like to shorten the rotation and make it more predictable. But if the Kings keep playing as sloppily as they have recently, he'll continue to search for the right group.

"I'd love to come in and say you two guys are out tonight and won't play," Smart said. "But then they might come in wearing pajamas. So you've got to keep all the guys ready to play."

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