Should the Kings be without forward Rudy Gay on Friday night against the Miami Heat, head coach Tyrone Corbin said, they will miss more than just Gay’s 20 points per game.
There’s the way in which Gay’s presence draws attention away from DeMarcus Cousins in the post. And there’s the fact that Gay ranks second on the Kings in assists per game, behind only point guard Darren Collison, with Corbin often “putting the ball in his hands to make plays for everybody else.”
Gay did not practice Thursday after sustaining a lateral joint capsule sprain in his left knee against Dallas on Tuesday night, and Corbin said Gay’s chances of playing Friday were “not looking great.”
For that reason, Corbin said, the Kings spent part of Thursday’s session working on floor spacing without Gay – particularly when opponents send an extra defender at Cousins.
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The Mavericks did so frequently Tuesday night with Gay leaving the game late in the first quarter, freed to do so partly by the Kings’ poor outside shooting (1 for 18 on three-pointers). Corbin had no issue with the Kings’ shot selection, saying they simply “missed some good ones.”
Cousins still finished with 32 points and one assist shy of a triple double before he fouled out just before the end of regulation. But the center also committed nine of the Kings’ 20 turnovers, which the Mavericks converted into 27 points in their overtime win.
“They were able to double-team our guys in the post, put pressure on us,” Corbin said. “We’ve got to make sure we space the floor, first of all, get the ball out and attack them on the weak side.
“We went through some things in practice making sure we understand how to space the floor with them coming after (Cousins). We have to make sure some other guys are able to step up for us.”
If Gay is unavailable, the Kings will likely turn to Derrick Williams, who had 12 points and a season-high 10 rebounds in 36 minutes against the Mavericks. The rebounding total was particularly encouraging for Corbin, who said Williams’ contributions are key when the Kings go to a smaller lineup.
The Kings may also welcome back Omri Casspi, who practiced fully Thursday for the first time since he last played Dec. 31. Casspi has missed the past six games because of inflammation in his left knee, where he suffered a bone contusion earlier this season.
The forward said Thursday was “the best I’ve felt” recently and that barring a setback he hopes to be available against the Heat. Sidelined for 13 of the past 18 games, Casspi has had a viewer’s perspective of the factors behind the Kings’ 6-12 record over that span.
“We need to get our energy back up, compete, be a little more focused defensively,” said Casspi. “All the stuff that Coach wants us to do. We’ve been pushing the pace a little bit more, but at the same time we can’t forget our defensive segments and principles.”
The Heat this season has been the antithesis of that fast-paced philosophy, averaging the third-fewest points per game (93.5) in the NBA and fewest possessions per 48 minutes (91.7).
“They have a lot of vets on their team,” Williams said of the Heat. “With the young guys we have on our team, the young legs, I think that’s going to be our best option is get out in transition and run.
“I think we’ve been doing that pretty well the last few games. We’ve just got to close out games, though.”
The Kings led the Mavericks by 10 points with four minutes left Tuesday only to see Dallas rally to force overtime. Sealing wins is emphasized in practice, Williams said, where the Kings set up two-minute scenarios focused on “really honing down on getting stops and executing.”
“That’s the main thing,” Williams said. “You look at the good teams in this league, the Thunder, the Spurs, the Grizzlies, they all execute in the last three, four minutes … The good teams in this league, they execute when it matters.”