As John Salmons' 16-foot jump shot rimmed out in the first quarter of the Kings' 117-111 win over Houston on Sunday evening, forward Jason Thompson came flying in for a putback dunk.
Heading back up the floor, Thompson turned toward the Kings' bench and started patting himself on the top of the head. In turn, several players popped up from the bench to pat their own heads. Appropriately, when asked about it afterward, Thompson chuckled.
"It's a thing where if I get a dunk or a dunk-on, I say, 'Watch your head, boy,' " he said. "In pregame, I'll hang on the rim just to get loose a little bit and say, 'Watch your head.' Guys started to like it. It's just a new thing that we do."
Thompson, meanwhile, has looked more like his old self in the Kings' past three games or at least the player of this season's first half following a rough month in which his typically consistent production dropped across the board.
The fifth-year forward had nine double doubles in the Kings' first 32 games and remains the team's lone player shooting 50 percent from the field (50.9). But starting Jan. 10, Thompson hit a 14-game span in which he scored in double figures just twice.
It was the first such 14-game stretch for Thompson since the start of the 2010-11 season. He averaged 6.2 points, 4.0 rebounds and 22.2 minutes in those games, down from his season marks of 10.7 points, 6.7 rebounds and 28.2 minutes.
Coach Keith Smart suggested Thompson might be playing through some pain. He was getting into early foul trouble, making it difficult to establish a rhythm. At the same time, rookie Thomas Robinson showed improvement playing more consistent minutes.
On Feb. 2 at New York, Thompson came off the bench for the first time this season and scored four points in 16 minutes. But in the ensuing back-to-back games against Utah, something clicked. Thompson had his first consecutive 20-point games of the season on 18-of-29 (62 percent) shooting, with 17 rebounds.
In those games, Thompson was often matched against Utah forward Paul Millsap, a stocky 6-foot-8 and 253 pounds. Having to be more creative to score against that kind of defender, Smart said, may have helped snap Thompson out of his slump.
"In those games, he wasn't trying to just back the guy down on a post-up," Smart said before Sunday's game. "Sometimes a guy's got to use a skill to face up, drive and go or take a jump shot. Some games, you have the power to use a back-down post-up move. And I thought (Saturday) night he did both things."
Thompson then used an array of shots in the first quarter Sunday. He missed his first attempt a 17-foot jumper then scored on a baseline hook shot, the putback dunk and a transition floater in the next two minutes.
"I'm just not trying to force things too much," Thompson said after the game, which he finished with 12 points and seven rebounds. "Trying to get into a rhythm with jump shots and picking when to be in the paint and stuff. Just being efficient."
Thompson acknowledged some frustration during the past month, but he said he doesn't think soreness or Robinson's emergence had much of an effect on his play. Teammate Chuck Hayes said Thompson handled the slump like "a professional."
"He just stayed his course," Hayes said. "These past two games, that's what we expect of him, his energy, activity."
Durability is one of Thompson's strengths. Though constantly running the floor and battling for rebounds, he has missed just 16 games since entering the league. Recently, he banged his left knee and "couldn't really explode as much." But the four-day break between the Utah games helped, and Thompson said he is "good for the most part."
He has another respite coming up following the Kings' back-to-back games at Memphis and Dallas, with five days off for the NBA All-Star Weekend.
"That should help me out, too," Thompson said. "I'm not getting any younger."