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Sacramento Kings snap out of funk as defense re-emerges

Sacramento Kings center DeMarcus Cousins (15) and Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) tussle for the basketball during a Thunder turnover in the first quarter in Monday nights game between the Sacramento Kings and Oklahoma City Thunder at Sleep Train Arena on January 7, 2015.
Sacramento Kings center DeMarcus Cousins (15) and Oklahoma City Thunder guard Russell Westbrook (0) tussle for the basketball during a Thunder turnover in the first quarter in Monday nights game between the Sacramento Kings and Oklahoma City Thunder at Sleep Train Arena on January 7, 2015. jvillegas@sacbee.com

For more than three weeks, the Kings talked about finding themselves, not making excuses and playing the way they know they need to play to win.

Wednesday night, they did that, by plowing through the Oklahoma City Thunder for a 104-83 victory at Sleep Train Arena.

The defensive intensity the Kings had lost over the last three-plus weeks re-emerged. They held the Thunder to 32.6 percent shooting and 83 points, both season lows for an opponent.

The Kings also forced a season-high 24 turnovers they converted into 26 points, another season best.

After two days of practice, the Kings looked more engaged defensively.

“These guys didn’t give us the game,” Kings coach Tyrone Corbin said. “These guys went out there and worked their tails off to get the game. I can’t say enough about all the guys’ effort.”

The Kings (15-20) had been seeking a fulfilling win since Corbin took over for Michael Malone on Dec. 14. They were 3-7 in Corbin’s first 10 games with the wins coming against the New York Knicks, the worst team in the Eastern Conference, and the Los Angeles Lakers and Minnesota Timberwolves, the worst teams in the Western Conference.

None of the wins had been impressive. The Kings needed overtime after blowing a late lead against the Knicks, shook off a slothful stretch to beat the Lakers and barely hung on against the short-handed Timberwolves.

Wednesday, they beat a Thunder team at full strength with stars Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Both have missed time this season because of injuries.

“This feels like a good win,” center DeMarcus Cousins said. “We’ve gotten other wins, but even after those wins, you could just tell it wasn’t a good win; it wasn’t a good way to win. It just wasn’t the right type of basketball to play. (Wednesday) we played the right way, and we got a good win.”

In their previous 10 games, the Kings gave up 111.9 points per game while scoring 104.4. Wednesday’s game was the first time the Kings held a team to fewer than 100 points since limiting the Detroit Pistons to 95 in a loss Dec. 13, Malone’s last game.

“I thought (Wednesday) was the first time in a really long time we really committed on the defensive end,” guard Darren Collison said. “I don’t know if it was the stage, playing a team like OKC. but I thought our urgency was really high.”

The Kings didn’t shoot great (39.1 percent). But they made 10 of 19 three-point attempts and 22 of 28 free throws and never trailed.

Rudy Gay had 28 points and nine rebounds, and Cousins had 23 points on 6-for-23 shooting with 15 rebounds and three blocks. Collison contributed 24 points and seven assists and sank a career-high five three-pointers.

Though the Kings had struggled recently, Collison entered the game playing some of his best basketball of the season. In his previous 10 games, he averaged 17.1 points, 5.0 assists and 1.8 steals while shooting 54.2 percent.

“In this league, you’re always trying to get better individually,” Collison said. “That’s nothing selfish, but you’ve got to continue as much as you can, and I’m just trying to improve as a point guard in this league, and it’s paying dividends right now. Now it’s just trying to get those wins together.”

Durant had 24 points for the Thunder (17-19). Westbrook had an off night, making only 3 of 19 shots for 10 points and committing a game-high seven turnovers. Serge Ibaka had 11 points, 10 rebounds and a season-high eight blocks for Oklahoma City.

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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