Guard Darren Collison missed his fifth consecutive game Sunday with a left hamstring strain, but the Kings hope to have their backup point guard back Wednesday in Atlanta.
Collison and coach George Karl said they’re targeting the opener of the Kings’ five-game trip for Collison’s return. Collison said he had hoped to return on Sunday against Toronto, but after he worked out Saturday, the Kings decided to push that back.
“It’s better,” Collison said of his hamstring. “It’s just one of those things where I’m still feeling a little something, and you don’t want this to linger. Hamstrings, talking to a lot of people, if you let it linger, it’s something that can nag you through the whole season.”
Collison averaged 15.8 points, on 45.5 percent shooting, and 5.2 assists in six games before his injury. His absence has resulted in a spike in minutes for starting point guard Rajon Rondo, who entering Sunday had played at least 44 minutes in four consecutive games, recording three triple doubles in that span.
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Before getting hurt, Collison was playing well both alongside Rondo and as his backup. He said the timing of his injury was “very disappointing, but what makes me feel better is the team has been playing better. ... Hopefully we can keep this streak going.”
Old ties – Karl and his counterpart Sunday, Raptors coach Dwane Casey, go way back. Karl was the head coach in Seattle when Casey landed his first NBA coaching job as an assistant with the SuperSonics in 1994.
“I’ll always be grateful to (Karl) for that,” Casey said.
Casey had an interesting perspective when asked how Karl has handled the recent turmoil in Sacramento. Casey said he didn’t know any more about the situation than “what you read in the paper,” but he recalled how Karl managed the locker room of that mid-’90s Seattle team that included strong personalities such as Gary Payton and Shawn Kemp.
“He did a great job with Gary Payton, working with him, and Gary was a handful at a young age,” Casey said. “So was Shawn. So (Karl) has a way of working with guys like that. Sometimes people see that as letting guys get away with stuff. But there’s a method to the madness, and George is really good at it.”
Casey added: “We all have issues; we all have situations with our teams that we have to deal with and work with. Sacramento’s no different.”
Lineup shuffle – Ben McLemore returned to the Kings’ starting lineup after playing the previous six games off the bench. McLemore was relegated to the second unit after struggling to start the season, but has played better lately, scoring a season-high 15 points on 5-of-8 shooting on Friday against the Brooklyn Nets.
“Karl said he has seen “about a two-week process where you could see (McLemore’s) body language get more confident,” and that putting McLemore back in the lineup on Sunday was a reward for McLemore “working his tail off” in practices.
“Confidence is a thin line in the NBA when you lose it or get nervous,” Karl said. “Whatever happened to Ben’s state, I’m confident that Ben can have a good year for us, and we need him to have a great year.”
Forward Rudy Gay also returned to the Kings’ lineup after missing one game with a stomach illness.