Kings get off to a roaring start, beat Nuggets

10/31/2013 12:00 AM

10/08/2014 10:58 AM

There was pregame pageantry, pyrotechnics and star power at courtside.

The improved video boards showed the local fight to keep the Kings from being sold and relocated to Seattle.

There were cheers for principal owner Vivek Ranadive as well as minority owner and former nemesis Shaquille O'Neal. Mayor Kevin Johnson received a similar reception.

Sleep Train Arena was filled with an announced sellout crowd of 17,317. The fans' roar evoked memories of the Kings' days as a championship contender a decade ago.

But there was a game to be played. And the Kings pulled out a victory in the final seconds Wednesday night, topping the Denver Nuggets 90-88 in the season opener for both teams.

Jason Thompson scored the winning basket, his only points, with 41.5 seconds left on a putback dunk off a DeMarcus Cousins miss.

"Coach had confidence in me to finish out the game," said Thompson, who came off the bench. "I made some plays you don't see in the stat sheet, made some key rebounds, blocks and then the play at the end."

Denver had one last chance, but Randy Foye's last-second shot hit the side of the backboard.

"Hell of a win," Kings coach Michael Malone said. "Way to start the season off."

For most of the night, Cousins played like the All-Star center the Kings believe he can and will be in the near future.

Cousins had game highs of 30 points and 14 rebounds. He made 13 of 26 shots and also had two blocks and two steals.

"He carried us," Malone said. "We went to him time and time again. He can score and make plays for his teammates, and he can get us into the bonus early so we can get to the foul line and get easy buckets."

With efforts like Wednesday's, there won't be much reason to question why the Kings have put so much faith in the fourth-year center.

Cousins played in the post most of the night, a point of emphasis for Malone. While coaching against the Kings, Malone thought Cousins was on the perimeter too much and let the defense off easy.

Taking advantage of the Nuggets' post defenders, Cousins showed an array of post moves. Malone said he will continue to look to work the offense through Cousins in the post, even though that's a lot of work for the center, while not completely eliminating his outside shooting.

"He's too big, he's too talented, too skilled to just be on the perimeter," Malone said.

Said Cousins: "I was really in the zone and didn't realize how many shots I took. It's tough being a post player, but we got it done."

Greivis Vasquez, the Kings' new starting point guard, had 17 points and four assists. Isaiah Thomas, who ended the last two seasons as the starting point guard, had 16 points and five assists.

The Kings jumped on the Nuggets early and led by 13 points in the first half. But Ty Lawson and J.J. Hickson brought Denver back.

Hickson scored eight of his 12 points in the fourth quarter, including a basket that tied the score 88-88 with 1:37 to play. Lawson had 20 points and eight assists.

Next for the Kings are a visit by the Los Angeles Clippers on Friday and a trip to Golden State on Saturday.

"I'm undefeated," Malone said after his first game as a head coach. "We'll see what happens Friday night." Follow The Bee's Jason Jones on Twitter @mr_jasonjones and read more about the team at www.sacbee.com/kings.

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