Duane Burleson / AP

Sacramento Kings guard Isaiah Thomas (22) goes to the basket against Detroit Pistons forward Josh Smith (6) as Kings forward Royce White, right, looks on during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Tuesday, March 11, 2014, in Auburn Hills, Mich. (AP Photo/ Duane Burleson)

For Kings, three 20-point scorers can be problematic

Published: Thursday, Mar. 13, 2014 - 7:47 pm
Last Modified: Friday, Mar. 14, 2014 - 11:41 am

The Kings are the only NBA team with three players averaging at least 20 points.

But as the Kings have shown, that doesn’t necessarily lead to wins.

At times, it’s led to tension on and off the court as DeMarcus Cousins, Rudy Gay and Isaiah Thomas each can stake claim to being the No. 1 option on a given night.

“I think that’s a blessing and a curse,” said Kings coach Michael Malone. “Because you’ve got three guys in the starting lineup who are all looking for their offense, and I think, at times, that’s why our assist numbers are way down. We have to learn to play with each other and make plays for each other.”

That will be vital as the Kings prepare to play the Chicago Bulls, one of the best defensive teams in the league, Saturday at United Center. The Kings’ chances of winning will be greatly diminished if they try to win by depending on one of their three leading scorers to attack the defense by himself.

Malone was asked if one of the three needs to defer. He said it’s up to his point guard to set the tone.

“I think it starts with Isaiah; that’s his job as a point guard,” Malone said. “His job coming into a game is not to be a starting 20-point scorer, it’s to be a starting point guard, and he’s aware of that. He’s trying to make that transition from being that scorer off the bench to a starting point guard, a facilitator, and he has to feel the flow of the game.”

Thomas acknowledges that’s his role, while also managing a roster of players who feel they’re at their best when they’re scoring.

“I just try to put them in positions to be successful and call the plays for them,” Thomas said. “Rudy coming off pick-and-rolls or in the mid-post. The same thing with DeMarcus. If his jump shot is going, try to bring the big out and get it to him. If they’re thin inside, put it down low. It’s tough, but at the same time it’s what a point guard needs to do, and I’m up for all of the challenges.”

Keeping everyone happy isn’t an easy task. Gay isn’t prone to being openly unhappy, but it’s not hard to tell when Cousins isn’t happy with on-court developments. Sources said Cousins sparked a verbal altercation with Thomas on Tuesday night at halftime in Detroit over his lack of touches when Thomas was off to a good start with 15 points and five assists.

Thomas took exception to Cousins questioning his judgment, especially with the Kings leading. A season-low 11-point third quarter followed, and the Kings lost.

Thomas said he does his best to go with the flow of the game. Sometimes that dictates he shoots.

“It’s not going to be where I know what’s going to happen throughout the game,” Thomas said. “I’m just picking and choosing my spots. Understanding how the game is going and who’s got it going on and who doesn’t. That’s the only way I can do it.”

Malone agrees with that approach. He wants the players to make passes to open teammates and take the best shots. He doesn’t want Thomas to become so passive with his offense that he’s a liability.

“If Rudy or Cuz has it going, you’ve got to feed those guys and keep getting them the ball where they’re most effective,” Malone said. “If they’re not going, or struggling or in foul trouble, (Thomas) has to look to be a little more aggressive. Each game takes on it’s own identity.”

Thomas said he will continue to see how each game plays out and will not predetermine his approach.

“I can’t go into each game saying, ‘In this game I’m going to try to get 10 assists or this game I’m going to try to get 30 points,’ ” Thomas said. “That’s just not how you do it. You’ve got to go out there and make the right play.”

Follow The Bee’s Jason Jones on Twitter @mr_jasonjones and read more about the team at www.sacbee.com/kings.

Read more articles by Jason Jones

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