It might have to rain another 40 days before the hydrologists send out a raven to spread any good water news around here, but there’s another drought that might be ending, so let’s celebrate.
Why wait until Fat Tuesday? The Kings’ juggernaut is rolling. They are in eighth place in the Western Conference, which puts them above the stripe for a playoff spot, and it’s been a decade since they finished a season that way.
Sacramento basketball fans may have noticed their team has won four in a row, including over the Los Angeles Clippers and the Atlanta Hawks.
Basketball experts say you have to judge a team by 10-game increments. Fair enough. By that gauge, the Kings are purring. They’ve won seven of 10, including one in Oklahoma City. The Thunder has the fourth-best record in what some insiders refer to as “The Association.” Some of us hear that and think of a decent band from the Sixties. Remember “Along Comes Mary”? It still sounds good, although it may require a doctor’s recommendation from one of those green-crossed storefronts to get into what they’re talking about.
Everybody talks about the Jeff Koons sculpture that will be prominent outside the new downtown arena. But the real genius will do his work inside that house on L Street, and his name is George Karl. Can any coach draw up a play better during a timeout?
Karl designed a beaut Thursday against Atlanta. The score was 88-88 in the final seconds when Karl selected Omri Casspi for the throw-in to point guard Rajon Rondo. You’d think the NBA assists leader would dribble around and make some kind of fancy pass. Instead, he dumped it in to DeMarcus Cousins. Then Rondo went to the baseline, and Cousins – with his back to the basket and 17,000 fans and all of the Atlanta Hawks expecting him to attack the basket – dropped the ball off his hip to the streaking guard, who laid it in.
I think we’re improving. I think we’re getting into a frame of mind that has some confidence to it, and maybe some consistency to it. But 10 games in January – the test has got to be longer than that, to get crazy about it.
Kings coach George Karl
“I think he watches a lot of film of mine,” Rondo said of Cousins and the basket that led to the 91-88 win.
Karl described the pass as Cousins’ “first option.” He still had the choice of going hard to the rim. But if the Hawks cut off Rondo, or walled off Cousins, Karl had arranged for Marco Belinelli, a shooting specialist, to take position up top. Maybe Karl got some help on the triple option from his assistants, but nobody remembers the speechwriters.
Before the Kings beat the Hawks, Karl was asked whether his group is becoming a good team. He has perhaps the best center in the league in Cousins – and maybe the most unloved, too, based on his crummy All-Star vote (10th in the Western Conference among frontcourt players). Rondo’s a dazzler at the point. Rudy Gay missed Thursday’s game with a bad wheel, but he’s always silky on offense and recently has stepped up his defense, too. Rookie Willie Cauley-Stein improves with each dawn, and the firm of Casspi, (Kosta) Koufos, Bellinelli and (Quincy) Acy makes for a fine bench. One of these days, Ben McLemore will figure it all out and become the next Byron Scott. McLemore scored 14 points against Atlanta, second best on the team. Scott’s career scoring average was 14.1.
“I think we’re improving,” is all Karl, wisely, said about his club. “I think we’re getting into a frame of mind that has some confidence to it, and maybe some consistency to it. But 10 games in January – the test has got to be longer than that, to get crazy about it.”
Maybe part of a coach’s job is to kill the buzz. And this is a team that hasn’t taken well to accolades. A few times this year, when the Kings’ movie took happy turns, the plot twisted into horrible losses at home to Portland, Philadelphia and New Orleans. They made you want to go kick a rock.
Maybe we should wait until Lent to get excited.
Nah. What’s the percentage in that? You win four in a row, you have a right to get crazy.
Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer sees the reality of the Kings, and he’s a very smart guy – graduated from Pomona College with a degree in the trifecta-like major of philosophy, politics and economics. Budenholzer was recruited to play ball there by a coach named Gregg Popovich, later the winner of five Association championships. Pop moved on before the Sagehens suited up Budenholzer, but he later hired the guy to help out with the San Antonio Spurs. The protégé then became boss of the Hawks and last year was named Coach of the Year.
It looks like they’re playing well. They’re fighting, wanting to be in the playoffs, just trying to improve, and kind of on the upswing.
Atlanta coach Mike Budenholzer
“It looks like they’re playing well,” Budenholzer said of the Kings. “They’re fighting, wanting to be in the playoffs, just trying to improve, and kind of on the upswing.”
Go ahead and wait until the Kings are .500 before you get excited, but why?
Any opportunity for joy is not to be wasted.