On one possession in their overtime loss to the Indiana Pacers on Friday, the Kings ran a play for forward Carl Landry that called for Landry to set a pick, step back to receive a pass and take a jump shot.
Landry, playing in his third game since returning from a torn left hip flexor, missed the shot badly.
During an ensuing timeout, coach Michael Malone said, “I told him in the huddle, ‘Run the same play and knock it down. Don’t even think about it. Just shoot the ball.’ ”
The Kings ran the play again, and Landry made the shot. It was one of two field goals for Landry in eight attempts, but it was one more step on the road to recovery for the veteran who’s coming back from a training camp injury that sidelined him for the first 38 games of the season.
“It’s huge to know that your coach and teammates … have confidence in you to go out there and carry the team during a play,” Landry said. “The NBA game, basketball, it’s all about confidence.”
Landry, a seventh-year forward who never has shot below 50 percent in an NBA season, doesn’t lack confidence when discussing his scoring ability. But he admits he’s rusty after missing all of the preseason and making his debut – in the first year of a four-year deal signed last July – against Oklahoma City last week.
The plan has been to ease Landry back to a normal workload, but with the Kings playing shorthanded Friday because of injuries to DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay, Landry played 26 minutes against the Pacers and said he felt “no problems at all.”
Malone said he “probably played (Landry) too many minutes,” but he sounded encouraged by Landry’s outing and physical response at Saturday’s light practice. Despite a rough shooting night – he scored five points – Landry had nine rebounds and spent most of the second half gamely defending David West, Indiana’s physical forward.
“I love his competitive spirit, his aggressive nature,” Malone said. “He defended David West very well. He has a physical mindset. He’s a very talented low-post player and pick-and-pop player. That’s going to come.
“He doesn’t have great rhythm right now on the offensive end, and he’s so hard on himself. I just want him to relax.”
Part of that, Landry said, is returning to the court after months of rehab. Before his season debut against the Thunder, Landry last played in the playoffs with the Warriors. He signed a free-agent deal shortly thereafter with the Kings, who hoped he could be a valuable veteran presence and scorer coming off the bench.
While still somewhat limited after the long layoff, Landry said Friday he thinks “the last 10 or 15 percent is just going to be going out there, getting my legs (back), getting my wind and playing with my new teammates.”
Malone sounded hesitant to increase Landry’s minutes too quickly so he doesn’t jeopardize his recovery. Still, Landry did not seem overly cautious Friday night, fighting for rebounds and drawing a charge in the second half.
As for the shooting touch, Landry said: “It’ll come.
“That’s pretty much what I’ve been doing my whole career – I’m able to score, shoot the jump shot as well as score down low,” Landry said. “So that’s something I’m not worried about.
“Defending at a high level, rebounding, talking on the defensive end, is something I was more concerned with. And I think I’m doing a pretty good job.”
Injury update – Malone said Cousins (sprained left ankle) and Gay (strained left Achilles’) will be game-time decisions tonight against the Denver Nuggets.
Malone said he believes Gay is “probably a little bit closer” to returning than Cousins, who was still receiving treatment to reduce swelling. “He may miss a game or two more,” Malone said of Cousins. “But we’ll have to see how he responds.”
The Kings play five games in seven days beginning tonight, and Malone said he wouldn’t rush either back if it meant putting them at risk for a setback.
Call The Bee’s Matt Kawahara, (916) 321-1015.