Sacramento Kings

Isaiah Thomas cheered in return

How long has Isaiah Thomas been looking forward to his first game back in Sacramento?

“Since the schedule came out,” Thomas said. “Just knowing I’d be in Sacramento on Christmas, I’ll be in Sacramento in February on my birthday (Feb. 7 for a game on Feb. 8), so somebody had to be knowing what they were doing with the schedule.”

Thomas was greeted with cheers when he checked into the game for the first time as a visiting player when the Kings hosted the Phoenix Suns Friday night at Sleep Train Arena.

Thomas became popular in three Sacramento seasons after being the last player selected in the 2011 NBA draft (60th overall) and beating out numerous players to win the starting point guard job each season.

The Kings were looking for a more defensive-minded, pass-first point guard and dealt Thomas to Phoenix in a sign-and-trade after signing Darren Collison to a three-year deal.

Thomas landed a four-year, $27 million contract from the Suns. Thomas checked into the game with 3:24 left in the first quarter to an ovation, with some standing to applaud him.

“I miss it,” Thomas said. “I love Sacramento. It’s weird being on this side (in the visitors’ locker room) because when I was with the Kings I never came on this side in three years.”

Thomas was happy to see many of the arena workers he came to know, but the coach he grew fond of, Michael Malone, was fired Dec. 14, news that “surprised” Thomas.

“That’s one of the best coaches I’ve been around,” Thomas said. “Whether it was preparation, a player’s coach where he wants you to play your game. He loved me for being me, he wanted me to be me and play my game and grow. It’s sad, but that’s the business. ... it’s sad that they did that but that’s their decision.”

Thomas was also asked about his former teammate, DeMarcus Cousins, who said during training camp that the ball moved more freely after Thomas’ departure.

“We exchanged texts after all that,” Thomas said. “He’s still a friend of mine, somebody I respect, and he’d probably say the same thing, too.”

Home back-to-backs – Tonight’s game against the New York Knicks will be the second set of back-to-back games at home this season.

The Kings have three sets of home back-to-backs this season.

The game will also end a stretch of 11 games in California. Ten of the past 11 games have been at home for the Kings. The lone road game during that span was against Golden State in Oakland.

Follow The Bee’s Jason Jones on Twitter @mr_jasonjones and read more about the team at www.sacbee.com/kings.

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