Who are these guys?
Where has this team been all season?
These were natural questions after the Kings plowed through the Dallas Mavericks 133-111 Sunday at Sleep Train Arena.
The feel-good win was a reminder of what might have been if the Kings had shown this kind of gusto all season.
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As badly as they played, the Mavericks (35-38) are just a half-game out of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference.
In a season with goals of a winning record and playoff contention, the Kings (29-44) matched their victory total of last season with Sunday’s win, their second in a row. . After too many head-scratching losses, Sunday’s game was just a chance to hurt Dallas’ postseason hopes.
“Yeah, I want them to get their plane ticket as soon as we get ours,” said Kings guard Rajon Rondo, who played with the Mavericks most of last season. “So anytime we can help, that’s what I try to get these guys to focus on. If we’re not going to make the playoffs, then let’s help some of these guys go home with us.”
The Kings are left with the spoiler’s role because they lost plenty of games they believed they should have won. But they won the season series with Dallas 3-1.
If we’re not going to make the playoffs, then let’s help some of these guys go home with us.
Kings guard Rajon Rondo
The Mavericks limped into Sunday’s game minus guard Deron Williams (left abdominal strain) and forward Chandler Parsons (season-ending right knee surgery) as they’ve slid closer to the Kings in the standings.
In the past two games, the Kings played with a positive vibe missing most of the season amid tension between players and coach George Karl as well as injuries.
The recent success has the Kings wondering if a different mindset could have changed the course of the season.
“Absolutely, but we’re in a tough pinch,” center DeMarcus Cousins said. “A lot of frustration, a lot of stuff out of our control. The perfect answer would be we found this in the season, but we didn’t, and the situation is what it is and we’re just going to enjoy each other and finish the season strong, or at least try to.”
In recent seasons, a .500 team would have had difficulty making the West playoffs. This season, that mark might be good enough to advance, adding to the disappointment for the Kings, who had more talent than in past seasons but performed below their expectations.
“I think about it all the time,” Cousins said.
Karl said the Kings team from Sunday – shooting a season-high 62.2 percent, scoring a season-high 72 bench points and committing just 11 turnovers – has been around all season.
“I think we’ve seen pieces of it in almost every game we play,” Karl said. “We just don’t put four quarters together.”
Willie’s out there creating his own shot, creating his own offense. Showing he has the ability to do so.
Kings center DeMarcus Cousins, on rookie Willie Cauley-Stein
But against Dallas, the Kings were clicking.
Rookie center Willie Cauley-Stein had his second consecutive 20-point game, finishing with a game-high 21 points off the bench. Cauley-Stein continued to show his evolving offensive game, including a running hook shot in the lane.
Karl said Cauley-Stein’s offense had been “blessed” by playmakers around him.
“A lot of his success has been, we made really good passes and it’s easy to make dunks and lobs,” Karl said. “He’s got to make a good play and then someone else has probably got to be a decoy, then someone else has to make a good pass. The last two games we’ve gotten numerous situations like that, and that’s exciting for everybody.”
Cousins credited Cauley-Stein for working to improve his game.
“Willie’s out there creating his own shot, creating his own offense,” Cousins said. “Showing he has the ability to do so.”