Zach Randolph playing center once meant the Kings were in panic mode. But his steady presence there since a lineup shuffle in mid-November has brought them peace.
On Friday against the Bulls, Randolph played his best game since moving from power forward, where he was an All-Star for the Memphis Grizzlies.
Randolph started hot and never cooled, finishing with season highs of 25 points and 13 rebounds in a 107-106 win over the Chicago Bulls at United Center. It was Randolph’s first double-double this season, reminiscent of his dominant days in Memphis.
“How about a 36-year-old who goes and gets 25 and 13 and one free throw – that’s amazing,” said Kings coach Dave Joerger. “Fantastic work by Zach, and we did a good job ... of cutting off him and getting some easy baskets off of that.”
No matter how many times the Bulls made a run, the Kings never stumbled, due largely to the steadying presence of Randolph, who made 12 of 19 from the field.
“It just felt good,” Randolph said. “Coach kept coming to me, guys kept getting the ball in the right spots, isolations, pick-and-rolls, rolling, just picking my spots.”
It could be argued Randolph’s presence this season and presumably next season – he signed a two-year, $24 million deal in the offseason – is a hindrance to the development of Sacramento’s young talent.
They are going to have to take those minutes from Randolph; that’s hard to do when he plays as well as he did Friday on a season-high 32 minutes.
Before the starting lineup change on Nov. 17, Randolph would only be used in center in what Joerger called an “emergency” situation. He has been the best option at center for offense, and when the Kings were flat – such as the 46-point loss at Atlanta on Nov. 15 – he would provide relief in that spot.
He has adapted well to playing center full-time. After going scoreless and playing just 14 minutes in his first game after the switch, Randolph has averaged 16.3 points and 7.0 rebounds since then.
“If you go back and look at the history, in Memphis, that’s all they put on me (were centers),” said Randolph, who is listed at 6-foot-10, 250 pounds. “When you go back, they never put the four man on me, they always put the big guy on me and put the small guy on Marc (Gasol).”
Randolph had a big guy on him Friday in Chicago center Robin Lopez, listed at 7-foot and 282 pounds.
“Sometimes playing at the five, those bigger guys can give (Randolph) problems,” Joerger said. “Robin Lopez is a heck of a player – I love Robin Lopez – but for one reason or another, he was able to get him. Robin got him a couple times, too. It was a good matchup.”
Lopez finished with 14 points and five rebounds.
The Kings (7-15) had lost seven straight in Chicago (3-18) before Friday. Helping Randolph was Bogdan Bogdanovic, who had career highs of 19 points and 30 minutes off the bench.
Garrett Temple had 13 points and Willie Cauley-Stein added 10 points, five assists and four blocked shots.
Randolph said he expected the Bulls would play them tough and that both teams would be “desperate” for a win. Considering the Kings were blown out by Atlanta (4-17), a loss to the Bulls, who have now lost eight in a row, might have made for a different kind of emergency.
Randolph ensured there would be none of that.
“It’s tough getting road wins,” Randolph said. “Any team is tough, especially when you go into their place trying to get wins. It was a good win, a team win, everybody contributed.”