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Randolph makes big impact at center. So why is it Kings’ ‘emergency’ option?

The Kings’ Willie Cauley-Stein and Zach Randolph (50) tie up Steven Adams (12) of the Thunder as they battle for a rebound in the third quarter on Tuesday at Golden 1 Center.
The Kings’ Willie Cauley-Stein and Zach Randolph (50) tie up Steven Adams (12) of the Thunder as they battle for a rebound in the third quarter on Tuesday at Golden 1 Center. jvillegas@sacbee.com

Coach Dave Joerger has tried something different the last two games to shake the Kings out of their slow starts – especially against smaller lineups.

Move starting center Willie Cauley-Stein to the bench, slide Zach Randolph to center and plug in rookie forward Justin Jackson.

On Saturday against the Pistons, the result was a rally that would eventually fall short. Tuesday night at Golden 1 Center, a lot of Randolph at center, especially in the second half, helped the Kings climb out of a 17-point hole to beat the Oklahoma City Thunder, 94-86.

The win ended a seven-game losing streak for the Kings (2-8) and sent the Thunder (4-6) to a third consecutive defeat.

Many players chipped in, but late in the game Randolph continued his stretch of solid play at center, where he can operate with freedom and space. He scored 18 points, all in the second half, to go with eight rebounds and three assists.

Jackson also played well with a season-high 16 points. So why not start that lineup? It’s not a given it will always go as well as it did Tuesday. And it has ripple effects.

One is Cauley-Stein – the third-year center and first player drafted by general manager Vlade Divac – might play less.

And this season is about developing young players more than pushing for wins while allowing the veterans to do the bulk of the work.

“It’s more of in case of emergency, break glass, which is what the last two games have been,” Joerger said of playing Randolph at center. “So that’s what we’ve done that for.”

There figure to be more emergencies this season if the Kings continue to start games badly. The Thunder held them to 10 points in the first, as season low for a quarter.

But after reserves such as Jackson, Buddy Hield (21 points) and De’Aaron Fox (10 points, eight assists) shook the Kings out of their 12-minute funk, Randolph went to work.

“That’s fun because I can pick and choose and I’m drawing so much attention from the defense, so somebody’s open,” Randolph said. “There’s always a double team, always a man coming over so I can move the ball and get that open shot for my teammate.”

It’s not something the Kings have worked on a lot in games, and mistakes make that evident. Sacramento had a season-high 23 turnovers, which Joerger attributed to the team’s unfamiliarity with Randolph, who had six turnovers, at center.

Still, Randolph said he likes playing center and would do “whatever it takes” to help the Kings win.

“A lot of years in Memphis I guarded the five (center) and the five guarded me for the last eight, nine years,” he said. “You look at all the film going back, they used to put the smaller guy on Marc (Gasol) and always put the bigger guy on me, so I used to always guard that five.”

The question, of course, is the sustainability of relying on a 36-year-old post player to be the focal point of the offense in these emergency situations.

But at least for the last two games, it’s worked for stretches.

The thought alone that his age is an issue is enough to make Randolph laugh.

“Man, I’m in my prime,” Randolph said. “I feel like I’m in my prime.”

The Kings will need that, because there are bound to be moments where Joerger needs to break the glass again.

Jason Jones: @mr_jasonjones, read more about the team at sacbee.com/kings.

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