Darren Collison might be the fastest King, with Ty Lawson likely his only serious challenger.
But in recent weeks, Collison’s play slowed. He was thinking too much and looked out of sorts. Collison thrives in the open court and attack mode, but he appeared trapped by coach Dave Joerger’s offense.
“In a new offense you’re trying to get everything right,” Collison said. “You’re trying to make sure everybody’s in the right spots and just trying to run it. And then you forget about yourself and you forget about playing your own game. I knew that would happen at times, given a new system, but I think we’re good to go now.”
Collison scored a season-high 26 points and added seven assists Tuesday night as the Kings ended a two-game losing streak with a 120-113 win over the Denver Nuggets at Pepsi Center. He reached double figures for the second consecutive game after failing to do so in six of the previous eight.
And for the second game in a row, Collison performed at the level needed for the Kings to have realistic playoff hopes.
Collison made 10 of 16 shots and had just two turnovers. His seven assists were his most since he had nine Dec. 14 against the Houston Rockets.
“(Collison) really hurt them in pick-and-roll,” Joerger said. “With their bigs playing loose, we want him to shoot the basketball. Darren’s a guy who has the green light to shoot those. He picked and chose his spots to shoot behind the screen or attack and get in the paint.”
Collison said the opponent had nothing to do with his tenacity. It was all about his mental approach.
“Getting back to being aggressive and going downhill,” he said, “and my teammates, coaches, everybody has been in my ear reminding me of what I need to get back to. Before these last couple games, I knew I took a step back, kind of deferring to the offense. But they told me it starts with me – you’ve got be to be aggressive like you did early in the season. So it’s getting back to that.”
Collison helped set the tone early. He and DeMarcus Cousins combined for 23 of Sacramento’s 29 points in the first quarter. Cousins finished with 31 points, six rebounds and six assists. Kosta Koufos added a season-high 18 points, and Arron Afflalo, who missed the previous three games because of a strained right elbow, scored a season-high 19.
“Arron for him to come in and play off an injury like that was huge,” Cousins said. “D.C. finally got rolling. He’s been struggling a little bit lately but came in and played with confidence and had a big game.”
The Kings needed all the season highs to deal with Denver, which tied the record for second-most made 3-pointers in franchise history with 18 in 38 attempts.
Sacramento allowed a game that had the makings of a blowout in the first half to become close, leading 98-95 with 9:11 to play before one final run to put the Nuggets away.
The Kings shot 52.3 percent to improve to 7-0 when shooting 50 percent or better. Danilo Gallinari led Denver (14-21) with 24 points.
Although the season hasn’t reached the midway point, the Kings (15-19) recognized the win not only stopped their skid, it gave them a one-game lead over the Portland Trail Blazers and a 1 1/2 -game edge over the Nuggets for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
“I think we just came out with a sense of urgency,” Cousins said. “We knew how important this game was. This is the team we are battling for the eighth spot, so of course this is an important win and can matter at the end of the year.”