Jan. 18 was a day of disappointments for the Kings.
The seven-game homestand that had been circled as a chance to improve had gone a disastrous 1-6. Rudy Gay had to be carried off the court with a ruptured left Achilles’ tendon. The mood in the locker room that night after blowing a 22-point lead to Indiana was predictably down.
Garrett Temple, Omri Casspi and Ty Lawson have also all missed time since Gay went down four weeks ago.
And through it all, the Kings have scrapped their way to an 8-7 record over that span entering Wednesday’s game against the Golden State Warriors at Oracle Arena.
The Kings (24-32) began the night 1 1/2 games behind Denver for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference in their last game before the All-Star break.
That has the Kings feeling good about their prospects for the rest of the season.
The Kings have played the last four games with Darren Collison as their only healthy point guard, and their wing depth has thinned out with injuries. DeMarcus Cousins has been the key, carrying the team on many nights while others have grown into bigger roles by necessity.
“I think guys have accepted the challenge and doing even more than what’s expected,” Cousins said. “Credit to them for being ready and being professionals and when their name is called they’re ready to play. I think we’re doing everything right. We might not always get the best results, but one thing about this team is we’re going to fight.”
Collison has taken on a bigger scoring load, especially of late, averaging 18.9 points in his last seven games.
Ben McLemore is playing the best basketball of his career, averaging 13.3 points since Temple was lost to a hamstring injury. Matt Barnes has met a variety of needs and Willie Cauley-Stein is making an impact off the bench along with Anthony Tolliver and Ty Lawson, when he’s healthy.
“I think everybody is just stepping up in different areas,” Collison said. “Everybody’s having their moments and that’s what it’s going to take to win games. It’s different guys, different nights.”
Kings coach Dave Joerger has liked the way the Kings have shared the ball over the last four weeks and the grit they’ve shown.
Arron Afflalo is playing out of position at small forward and defending bigger players. Malachi Richardson is learning on the job as a rookie taking on more responsibility.
“We’ve been competitive,” Joerger said. “Guys are giving it everything they’ve got and playing to their potential. The ball’s going in a little bit, which is good. Darren’s been shooting at a very high level and guys have stepped up.”
The Kings entered Wednesday on a four-game winning streak, matching their best of the season, and had won five of their last seven games.
“DeMarcus is obviously playing really well,” said Warriors coach Steve Kerr. “But they’re spreading the floor around him and guys are shooting the ball and they’re tough to guard because you have to pay so much attention to DeMarcus.”
Collison said the Kings have remained focused even with the break approaching; they’re aware of how mental lapses can lead to deficits too big to overcome.
“In our position, every game is crucial for us, so we really can’t look past nothing,” Collison said. “We have to focus on what’s at task and every game we need to win.”
Post-break plans – The Kings’ first practice after the All-Star break will be Tuesday evening.
Joerger has an idea of how practice will go.
“Some people like to run them until they puke when they come back,” Joerger said. “I like to get a ball in their hands, try to get your legs back underneath you while playing as much as possible.”
Cousins is the only King who will take the court during All-Star Weekend, with the Skills Challenge on Saturday and the All-Star Game on Sunday.
More All-Star talk – Kerr was asked about having Kevin Durant and his former Oklahoma City teammate Russell Westbrook together when he coaches the West All-Stars.
“No, honestly, I haven’t given it one bit of thought,” Kerr said. “Coaching the All-Star Game is kind of an oxymoron anyway.”