Make it three games in a row the Kings have shown signs they are starting to forge a new identity.
The season is only four games old, so it’s far too soon to declare this team completely reformed of its selfish habits. But with each game, the talk of team basketball and playing for each other is showing up more on the floor.
The Kings overcame a shaky start with a team effort for their third consecutive victory, 110-105 over the Denver Nuggets on Monday at the Pepsi Center.
Sacramento opened the game shooting 6 of 23, which in the past would have been an excuse for a player to justify playing one-on-five in an attempt to win the game by himself.
Instead, the Kings showed resolve, turned to their bench for major contributions and improved to 3-1. It’s the first time since the 2010-11 season the Kings have won three of their first four games.
The starters cheered on the reserves, who kept the Kings in the game in the second half. Playing the second of back-to-back games in Denver’s altitude is tough, but the Kings survived with Omri Casspi, Ramon Sessions, Reggie Evans, Carl Landry and Ray McCallum having their moments.
No one was concerned about individual glory, which must continue for the Kings to turn around their fortunes.
“I went to put DeMarcus (Cousins) back in the game at one point, and he said ‘Coach, give them another minute, let them play another minute’ to build up that trust,” said Kings coach Michael Malone. “We have a lot of guys that believe in each other, and we’re really coming together as a team right now, which is great to see.”
Cousins credited the second unit after the starters had a slow start to the third quarter. Evans finished with 14 rebounds. Sessions (13 points) and Landry (14 points) provided offense while Casspi (nine points, four assists) and McCallum (four points and defending Arron Afflalo late) added a spark.
“That’s just showing signs of us growing as a team and being happy with the main goal, which is winning the game and not too much worried about anything else such as stats, playing time or whatever the case may be,” Cousins said. “Whenever your name is called, you’re ready to play. Ray McCallum hasn’t played most most of the season, but when his name was called, he came in and gave us some incredible minutes.”
McCallum hadn’t played since getting two minutes in the season opener. He played 14 minutes Monday, including the entire fourth quarter.
“They say you’ve always got to be ready, patient and wait because you never know when your opportunity is going to come,” McCallum said. “I’m just always ready to play whenever I get the chance, and (Monday) I got my name called.”
Darren Collison led the Kings with 21 points and six assists. Cousins had 19 points and Rudy Gay 14.
Collison said the Kings’ defense has been key. Denver (1-2) shot just 38.7 percent.
The Kings shot 42 percent but did enough to keep the Nuggets under wraps, leaning on a plus-12 advantage from the free-throw line to overcome their spotty shooting and 15 turnovers.
Collison said the Kings have won their past three games by trusting each other and sacrificing for the team.
“You need that chemistry, you need that cohesiveness, and I think guys are having so much fun playing with each other,” Collison said. “They’re being supportive off the bench, so it’s a good start.”