The once and future (maybe) Kings

It is a measure of something, I suppose, that the last time the Kings were in the playoffs, they finished fourth in the Pacific. Today they’re fourth in the Pacific, having demonstrated that they’re at least somewhat better than the Lakers, but they’re mired deep in the lottery. Inconsistency consistently befalls Sacramento: down twelve at the half, they fought back to within three, ended the third quarter down eight, and then didn’t score a point for six minutes — well, 5:59 — in the fourth against the Thunder bench. At the time, it was Oklahoma City 101, Sacramento 79; had a faith healer suddenly brought Rudy Gay and Isaiah Thomas to life, it wouldn’t have made a whole lot of difference. Thunder 107, Kings 92, and that’s the season sweep.

How good was the OKC bench in that fourth quarter? There was no reason to bring in Kevin Durant, who finished with 23 points, ending his streak of 25-plus at 41. And Caron Butler, more or less the official sixth man when Reggie Jackson starts, also finished with 23, hitting six of six treys. (Jackson, of course, started under Restbrook conditions; Russell is being saved for the, um, “big” game tomorrow against the Clippers.) Butler had a ridiculous +28 for the night. And Steven Adams, keeping Kings out of the lane, blocked three shots, three more than Serge Ibaka. Then again, Ibaka scored 19 points, Adams 5.

The Kings, though, had the two top scorers: DeMarcus Cousins (24, 14 rebounds) and Travis Outlaw (24, a season high). Further, the Kings outrebounded the Thunder, 44-39, having demonstrated, at least early on, a talent for second-chance points. But shooting was an issue: 41 percent, only 3-14 from outside. And unexpectedly, the Thunder didn’t give them a whole lot of opportunities to cash in on mistakes: OKC had zero turnovers in the first half and finished with a mere six.

The number to watch, though, is 1.5. OKC is now 56-21; the Clippers, who had the night off, are 55-23. A game and a half. (The Timberwolves, now officially a lottery team again, vented their frustration on the Spurs, which had to be fun.) Can the Thunder win 60? They’ll have to beat the Clippers first. (Four games after that — New Orleans twice, Indiana and Detroit — and the Pacers, despite recent slumpage, are 34-6 at home.)

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A Sac of kittens

When Russell Westbrook is gone — but never mind, let’s not think about that again. One thing we haven’t thought about at all, though, is this: what happens when Reggie Jackson is gone? The Regmeister hosed up his back at practice yesterday and was scratched for tonight, which almost certainly explains why the Thunder signed the nearest available Reggie, the 66ers’ Reggie Williams, to a second 10-day contract, and brought him in just in case they needed him against the Kings.

Maybe not so much. The Kings played even with the Thunder for just over three minutes, at which time the score was 4-4. After that, Sacramento appeared to go to pieces; four minutes into the second quarter, they were down 37-15. Then the Kings started to make some shots, pulling into the 30-percent range after wallowing in the 20s. But everything they gained in the second quarter (Sacramento 23, OKC 22) they lost in the third, and more, with the Thunder claiming a 31-point lead, 82-51. Still, the Kings weren’t giving in, and OKC finally caught on at the four-minute mark, having been outscored by Sacramento 21-6 in the fourth quarter. (Williams was then put in, and promptly made a couple of jumpers.) The Kings cut that 31-point deficit down to 13 at the horn, losing by a not-that-embarrassing 94-81 count, and they did that without their big names: Rudy Gay (3-11, 7 points) played only 21 minutes, DeMarcus Cousins (2-8, 4 points) only 17, and neither showed up in the fourth.

With the OKC defense apparently watching everything else, the Kings sustained themselves with the occasional trey (9 of 18, but 22-67 from within the arc) and rebound dominance (49-38, 17-3 offensive). Guards Ben McLemore and Ray McCallum played almost the whole game (46 minutes each); McLemore was the Kings’ high scorer with 18. From the bench, Travis Outlaw contributed 17; Jason Thompson rang up 10 points and 14 boards, and Quincy Acy added 13 boards more.

Still, the Thunder starters wouldn’t be seen in the fourth quarter, Kevin Durant retiring for the night with 29 on an efficient 9-11. Westbrook worked 24 minutes, as always flat-out, and collected 18 points on 7-12. And Jeremy Lamb put in a team-high 33 to lead the reserves with 13. OKC hit nine treys, but it took them 23 tries to get them.

The Jazz will be here Sunday afternoon, which might be a yawner; the Spurs will show up Thursday, which almost definitely won’t.

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And also of cabbages

If there’s a lesson to be learned from this year’s Sacramento Kings, it’s this: cheaper equals better. Isaiah Thomas, arguably the league’s best-buy point guard — averaging 19 points a game and earning under $900k a year — knocked down a torrid 27 points in the first half tonight and finished with a career-high 38. Comparatively pricey forward Rudy Gay, unnerved by being held to six points, was T’d up for protesting a call, got louder, and was propelled from the premises. By this time, though, the Thunder, who trailed the Kings 30-28 after the first quarter, had run out to a double-digit lead, and Sacramento’s failure to score for more than four minutes at the beginning of the fourth quarter basically sealed their doom. They did whittle a 24-point deficit down to 13, trying everything including Hack-a-Perk. (They fouled Kendrick Perkins thrice, and Perk made three of the four six throws.) Still, the Thunder prevailed, 108-93.

Four of the five Thunder starters collected double figures, led by Kevin Durant (of course) with 30; Perk, the odd man out, still made seven. Two of the reserves — Jeremy Lamb and Nick Collison — rolled up ten points. And this was Serge Ibaka’s third game in a row over 20.

DeMarcus Cousins, surly as ever, got one of two Sacramento double-doubles, with 16 points and 11 rebounds. Jason Thompson (11 points, 10 boards) got the other. But Thomas was just incredible to behold and for the most part impossible to defend. And welcome back, newly-recovered Carl Landry, who scored six points in nine minutes.

There are still some lingering Thunder issues: Steven Adams fouled out for the third game in a row, though he made it through 17 minutes this time instead of 10 or 11, and Reggie Jackson is still having occasional flashes of “What do I do now?” How this will work out against the likes of the Trail Blazers, we’ll know on Tuesday.

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No snoozing on the Sleep Train

For about twelve minutes, the Thunder looked utterly stunned: the Kings, despite the absence of both DeMarcus Cousins and Carl Landry, pounded OKC into the wood in the first quarter, 31-19. Jet lag? Who knows? We do know this: the Thunder put together a 31-16 second quarter to go three up at the half, and scored 14 straight at the end of the third to make the lead 13, plus the first four points in the fourth. The Kings, clearly not done, ran off the next 13. Scott Brooks, hoping to rest the starters for Portland tomorrow, found himself having to reinsert them, and OKC escaped with a 97-95 win.

Chuck Hayes, perhaps the shortest center in the league (6’6″), was happy to pick up nine rebounds, though he was the only King starter to miss double figures. Then again, none of the King starters were quite as fearsome as reserve point guard Isaiah Thomas, who got 21 of his 24 points in that fourth quarter. Jason Thompson posted the only Sacramento double-double: 10 points, 10 boards. And you have to figure that Brooks, on the plane if not before, is going to want to know how the Kings got off to a 14-2 lead before the first five minutes were up.

Kevin Durant, as usual, led the OKC attack, though it took him 39 minutes to roll up 27 points and 11 boards. Russell Westbrook was the playmaker rather than the scorer tonight: 17 points, seven assists, and, um, seven turnovers. (The Kings, all ten of them, coughed it up only eight times.) Royce Young over at Daily Thunder has been making a little game out of “Reggie Lamb,” as though Jackson and Jeremy were joined at the hip, but it actually makes a fair amount of sense, since they’re so often on the floor at the same time. For the record, Reggie Lamb picked up 27 points. (Split ‘em down the middle, give the odd one to Jeremy.)

And there’s still the question of how, if you can let the Kings beat you 14-2 in five minutes, you’re going to deal with the seriously-hot (15-3, tied with the Spurs at the top of the West) Trail Blazers in twenty-one hours or so. I guess we’ll find that out when it happens.

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Kings deposed again

On the line tonight: the #1 seed in the West and the 60th win of the season. Sacramento would have been happy to play spoiler for both of those, and after Tyreke Evans hit four out of five in ten minutes, you’d have been forgiven for thinking that they might actually pull it out. Then Evans went down with a blow to the quads, and the Kings started falling behind, dropping to 24 back. The starters went to the bench. The Kings started catching up, and the starters were called back to work, though the margin at the end was a modest nine points, 104-95.

Kevin Martin and Kendrick Perkins were still out, and Derek Fisher was scratched before game time, so the big questions were “How long will Hasheem Thabeet be out there?” and “Will we actually see Ronnie Brewer?” The answers: 12½ minutes, and Yes, with a capital Y. Brewer’s shot wasn’t going in, but he was gathering everyone else’s shots, finishing with two points and 13 rebounds. What’s more, the Thunder got twenty minutes out of Daniel Orton, a third of what he’d played in the preceding 59 games, and he and Reggie Jackson wangled ten points apiece, more than compensating for the Sixth and Seventh men. Kevin Durant, having pretty much cinched 50-40-90 for the season, turned in 29 points, a little above his average but not enough to put him back in contention for the scoring title. And while we’re talking contention, let’s talk Russell Westbrook, who was contentious enough to bag two technicals, which earned him a free trip to the locker room. He’d already picked up 21 points.

If you’re a Kings fan, here’s the fun part for you: ex-Thunderer Cole Aldrich got the only double-double of the night: 12 points, 13 boards in not quite 23 minutes. In fact, the Sacramento bench was quite a bit more productive than the starters, bagging 53 of the Kings’ 95 points, though Isaiah Thomas did come up with 16 running the point. (Still, Thomas was -4 for the night, while Aldrich was +17.) And Sacramento was slightly less inept at shooting the long ball than Oklahoma City: 7-27 versus 5-23.

Still undetermined: whether there will actually be a Sacramento team next year. (If not, will Bill Simmons call the new Seattle entity the Zombie Kings?)

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At sub-Sonic speeds

The Kings are still in Sacramento, for the moment. And for the first 12 minutes tonight, they were an offensive powerhouse. After that, not so much: the Thunder outscored them 59-37 in the middle quarters, and while the Kings mounted a rally in the fourth, OKC managed a ten-point win, 105-95, strangely reminiscent of the last ten-point win by the Thunder over the Kings, also marked by a Sacramento rally in the fourth.

Interestingly, all ten Kings on the floor got at least a couple of baskets, though none of them scored big: Tyreke Evans picked up 16, DeMarcus Cousins and Jason Thompson 14 each, and Marcus Thornton 13 from the bench. Sacramento was fairly reliable from beyond the arc, making eight of 15 treys, but they managed only 42 percent shooting overall.

Batman and Robin did the double-double thing tonight: Kevin Durant 24 points and 11 rebounds, Russell Westbrook 18 points and 14 assists. (Westbrook didn’t even play in the fourth quarter, the Thunder having been up by 19 when it started.) Former King Kevin Martin remembers this place well, and lit it up for 24 points. The most interesting line, though, may belong to DeAndre Liggins, who in 14 minutes scored only two points, both at the foul line, but retrieved seven rebounds and blocked a shot.

This is the Thunder’s last visit to Sacramento this year, and perhaps ever: the Maloof brothers are planning to sell their controlling interest in the team to a Seattle-based group which intends to relocate it to America’s Most Unironic City next season. Whether this portends a division realignment remains to be seen, though it’s hard to imagine the Sonics v.2 not being in the Northwest. And if OKC in the Pacific makes no sense, well, we play baseball in the Pacific Coast League.

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From the Manila folder

Manuel V. Pangilinan, in his capacity as head of Samahang Basketbol ng Pilipinas, is the closest equivalent in the Philippines to the NBA’s David Stern — except that Stern doesn’t own a telephone company or a TV network.

That said, MVP, as they call him, wants to be a small player in the Big Show:

Pangilinan said in an interview with reporters that he is seriously looking at offers for him to invest between five percent and 10 percent in an NBA team.

He refused to divulge the names of the teams but hinted that he is looking at a team in the Western [Conference] of the NBA.

This is not the first time he’s put out feelers, either:

Pangilinan confirmed reports that he was looking at a majority stake in an offer to join a group of investors that was supposed to take over the struggling Sacramento Kings in the NBA.

The group of investors was organized by retired former NBA All-Star Chris Webber, who was part of the Kings from 1998 to 2005.

The Kings continue to struggle, but nothing has come of the Webber group’s offer yet.

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Misunderestimation

Against the Hornets Wednesday, the Thunder were clumsy early on, but recovered. Against the Kings tonight, they were methodical, but fell to pieces in the second half; it got so bad that Scott Brooks, who’d pulled the starters when OKC was up by a couple of dozen, had to put three of them back in with four minutes left and the lead cut to single digits. The Kings closed to within five, but finally the Thunder put them away, 113-103.

What happened? Two words: “Isaiah Thomas.” The second-year Sacramento guard went on a shooting spree, knocking down 10 of 13 — four of seven from way outside — for a team-high 26 points, and he did it in less than 16 minutes. (Aaron Brooks, who started at the point, had 13 points in 23 minutes.) DeMarcus Cousins, who rattled down ten points in the first quarter, wasn’t a factor thereafter. The Kings shot decently, 45 percent overall, seven of 19 treys, but their rebounders didn’t show up, what with only 29 retrieved, and dimes, at 18, could fairly be characterized as “sparse.”

Especially, you know, when Russell Westbrook can serve up 13 assists by himself, which he did, to offset 4-13 shooting for 13 points. Kevin Durant took up the slack, as he often does, going 10-14 for 31. Serge Ibaka notched another double-double (18 points, 11 rebounds), and Reggie Jackson, the hero of the Hornets game Wednesday, scored — um, zip. Didn’t even take a shot in four minutes. Former King Kevin Martin, who led the bench with 18, was happy to dribble it out at the end.

I suspect that what Scott Brooks is going to want to know is “What happened to our blowout? Have we no defense?” Let’s hope he finds an answer before the Spurs show up on Monday.

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Recycling of a sort

Sacramento Kings guard Jimmer Fredette describes a slightly weird incident:

“When I was in Salt Lake this summer, a boy asked me to sign a pair of shoes. When I saw the shoes, I realized they were mine from my freshman year of college and he had gotten them out of the dumpster outside my dorm where I had thrown them away.”

The only thing better than trash is authenticated trash.

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The Kings will not rest

The Kings are evidently prepared to endure all manner of indignities to remain in Sacramento. It was a matter of time before the “Power Balance Pavilion” name came off the door, Power Balance itself having gone bankrupt. Now Kings ownership is looking for a new naming-rights deal, and one of the contenders, reports the Sacramento Bee, is Sleep Train Mattress Centers.

Sleep Train! So much for the Kings’ fast break. If they paint this on the floor, and you know they will, first time a Sacramento player gets that deer-in-the-headlights look anywhere in the vicinity of the logo, he’s going to be image-macro’ed into infamy.

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Throne for a loop

Yes, kids, it’s the Sacramento Kings again, and this is definitely the last time we’ll have to see them this season. Promise. And if we thought we would be spared the presence of DeMarcus Cousins, who rolled up his thirteenth technical Sunday — well, that tech was rescinded, and DeMarcus did his darnedest to make DeDifference tonight, rolling up a team-high 32 points. Scott Brooks, evidently not impressed, brought out none of the Thunder starters for the fourth quarter, and the James Harden-less bench came up big, putting together a 36-24 final frame to get the better of the Kings, 118-110.

Sacramento came out shooting hot, running up 40 points in the first quarter; they cooled a bit once the Thunder defense started to gel, but still finished with a creditable 52 percent from the floor. All five starters made double figures, though the five reserves, putting in limited time (Tyler Honeycutt, says the box score, played two seconds, and you can’t get much more limited than that), contributed only seven points among them.

Meanwhile, Derek Fisher and Daequan Cook took command of the OKC bench; DC-14 got a season-high 19 points, and Fish dropped in 11, including three consecutive free throws late after being fouled on a long ball. Kevin Durant, who vanished after the third quarter, left with 32 points, enough to pad his tiny lead over Kobe Bryant for scoring champion by some infinitesimal decimal. With Russell Westbrook in something of a slump (4-13, 13 points), Thabo Sefolosha stepped up his offensive game, hitting four of six, including two treys, for 11 points. The Thunder shot 46 percent, and outrebounded Sacramento, 43-34.

Which leaves Game 66, tomorrow against the sixth-place (for the moment) Nuggets. Denver hasn’t beaten OKC all year, and there’s no good reason they should start now.

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Throne almost defended

For a team that’s supposed to be terrible — Basketbawful calls them the Purple Paupers, and that’s when they’re being nice to them — the Sacramento Kings are capable of some remarkable feats. Down 15 halfway through the fourth, they reeled off seven straight points in about a minute before the Oklahoma City defense could catch its breath. Respiration did return, however, and the Kings would gain no further ground, the Thunder pulling off a 103-92 win.

Sacramento did not shoot well: they were under 40 percent most of the night, finishing just under 41. However, they did spread the scoring around: four of five starters, plus rookie Jimmer Fredette, in double figures. DeMarcus Cousins led with 18 and nine rebounds, four of them off the offensive glass. (The Thunder had only six such all night.) If anyone seemed to be underachieving, it was Travis Outlaw, who missed all six of his shots and one of two free throws, though even Outlaw had four boards. In terms of Scary Young Guys, Isaiah Thomas (12) was the dominant one early on, Tyreke Evans (16) later on.

The Thunder, however, could shoot: 53 percent from the floor, 19 of 22 from the stripe. The usual suspects got fairly typical numbers: Kevin Durant 29 (14 boards, and seven assists), James Harden 20, Russell Westbrook 18, and Serge Ibaka logged eight blocks while tossing up 12 points. (This season he’s averaging better than 3.5 blocks per game; nobody else has even two and a quarter.)

Sunday might mark a milestone of sorts: if OKC can pull off a win, they’ll have swept the Lakers, 3-0. And they’ll need to, just to stay on San Antonio’s heels. (The Spurs wasted Kobe and company 121-97 tonight.) Two home games follow, and suddenly it’s playoff time. On the question of whether it’s better to be the #2 seed, all I’m going to say is that I’m grateful for any seed in which we don’t have to play the Grizzlies in the first round. And currently, Memphis is #5, which would pit them against the #4 Clippers. Given the trouble we’ve had with both those teams, the idea of losing one of them before the second round is awfully appealing.

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A right abdication

The Kings made a game of it for about twelve minutes — they trailed 23-21 after the first quarter — but the Thunder evidently decided that the best way to expunge the last remaining memory of that three-game losing streak was a good old-fashioned blowout, and that’s what they delivered, sending slumping Sacramento on its way, 115-89.

And they did it without James Harden, who was scratched due to a sore knee. (Will we see him tomorrow at Minnesota? I’m betting we do.) As usual, Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook got the big numbers (29 and 22 points respectively), and Kendrick Perkins grabbed 11 rebounds in addition to scoring 11 points. In the absence of Harden, the bench was led by Derek Fisher (14) and Daequan Cook (13). And what with tornadoes south of the city, there was some early, um, rumbling about the end of the team’s season-long (and then some) stretch of sellouts. Didn’t happen: same old 18,203.

Sacramento, whose on-again-off-again deal for a new arena is off again, might have been slightly distracted, maybe. The wingmen, Marcus Thornton and Isaiah Thomas, led the scorers — Thomas had a highly-respectable 21 — but Tyreke Evans, who averages around 17, managed only two in a meager 14 minutes. Perennial pest DeMarcus Cousins, though, scored nine and hauled in 12 boards. The Kings shot a sub-blah 39 percent and were outrebounded 58-41.

Amazingly, with seven games left, two are against the Kings. They may not be pushovers next time. But first, the Timberwolves, who are much depleted these days: Rubio’s been out for weeks, Luke Ridnour is sidelined, and Kevin Love suffered an apparent concussion Wednesday at the hands — er, elbow — of Denver’s JaVale McGee. Still, Rick Adelman can beat you with half a dozen nuns and a professional Richard Simmons impersonator, so Scott Brooks will give his usual “Don’t underestimate these guys” speech before tipoff.

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Tilt that way

The building is called Power Balance Pavilion, and the balance of power was decidedly with the Kings: what they presumably lacked in clout, they made up for in volume and in execution. Sacramento, for instance, got off 99 shots; you have to figure that even 40 percent of that — which they hit — would produce some serious scoring. The eight-point Thunder lead from the middle of the fourth quarter evaporated in four minutes flat, and the Kings ran them out of the place, 106-101.

Maybe it was the crowd. In the Good Old Days, the old Arco Arena sold out just about every night, and legend has it that you could hear the noise on the far side of Stockton. The Kings were lightly regarded this year: this was the only national TV appearance for which they were scheduled, and attendance was not so great earlier in the season. Did Oklahoma City misunderestimate the one-time Purple Paupers? The Kings grabbed twenty-three Thunder turnovers, had a 46-40 advantage on the glass (17-12 offensive).

Telltale statistic: the Thunder blocked 17 shots — Serge Ibaka had 10 before fouling out — and yet Sacramento rolled up 60 points in the paint. Against something like that, 33 points from Russell Westbrook and 27 from Kevin Durant (which comes to, by coincidence, 60) doesn’t help.

Oh, you wanted to know about Tyreke the Freke? Evans was speedy as ever, thank you very much, and good for 22 points. The only double-double on either side was garnered by Jason Thompson, who had 11 points and 10 boards. And in the Ferocious Big competition, DeMarcus Cousins had it all over Kendrick Perkins, who played only 19 minutes.

So the Thunder have to beat the Jazz Friday night to come back 3-2 from this road trip. We shall see.

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Sonics II?

If you thought, not unreasonably, that Seattle’s current position on the NBA is “Screw ‘em,” you might want to take the following under advisement:

A wealthy San Francisco hedge-fund manager and officials in the Seattle mayor’s office have been working behind the scenes for eight months to bring an NBA team back to the city as early as next fall and build a new arena, according to emails and documents that reveal a far more concerted effort than previously known.

The documents, released Friday to The Seattle Times under a public-disclosure request, also provide the first glimpse of how the largely unknown hedge-fund manager, 44-year-old Seattle native Christopher Hansen, approached the city about his desire to buy an NBA team and build an arena south of Safeco Field.

But which team? The ownership most likely to sell would be presumably dealing with both arena issues and an indifferent (or worse) record. Which means — yes, you guessed it:

Although the documents don’t mention how Seattle would obtain a team, they show the city has been following developments in Sacramento, which is under a March 1 deadline to come up with a viable proposal to build an arena for the Sacramento Kings. In September, Hirsh emailed a copy of an Associated Press story to Raup that outlined the Sacramento situation.

If Sacramento fails, the Kings could be playing in Seattle next fall if the city and Hansen reach an agreement, according to a Seattle City Hall source who has been briefed on the matter.

Second choice might be the league-owned New Orleans Hornets, but David Stern has always said he’s looking for an owner who would keep them in the Big Easy.

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Abdication postponed

The Sacramento Kings, next year, will be called — the Sacramento Kings:

The Sacramento Kings will remain in town for at least one more season to give Mayor Kevin Johnson a chance to follow through on his promise of a new arena.

The Kings had been considering a move to Anaheim, Calif., after several failed efforts to build a new arena in Sacramento, but they decided to give Johnson one more shot.

“The mayor of Sacramento has told the NBA relocation committee that he will have a plan for a new arena within a year,” co-owner Joe Maloof said Monday. “If not, the team will be relocated to another city.”

State government has no money, but announced they’d step up to help:

Four California lawmakers, including the leader of the state Senate, sent a letter to NBA Commissioner David Stern last week pledging to work with local leaders over the next year to try to build a sports and performing arts complex to replace the Kings’ outdated arena.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, a Democrat from Sacramento, said he would use his clout to make sure his district gets its share of state bond money that could go to build the complex.

Personally, I think Lakers owner Jerry Buss ought to kick in a few million: the longer he can keep the Kings from moving to Anaheim, the more his cable-TV contract with Time Warner will be worth.

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The grandeur that once was Arco

If the Kings had been getting crowds like this all year, nobody would have mentioned the dreaded word “Anaheim.” And nobody, lately, seems to be speaking the dreaded word “Tyreke”; Sacramento’s hummingbird of a point guard is still ailing, but Beno Udrih and Marcus Thornton handled the wings nicely in his absence. And DeMarcus Cousins, when he wasn’t having a hissy fit — he drew a technical for one of them — was getting to the line on a regular basis, and by “regular” we mean he hit 18 of 21. (Radio guy Matt Pinto will swear that he was getting help by three guys with whistles.) Cousins wound up with 30 points, as many as Russell Westbrook and almost as many as Kevin Durant, but the Kings, who had a six-point lead at the half, weren’t able to sustain it, and the Thunder posted their 25th road win, 120-112.

Still, nobody will accuse these Kings of rolling over and dying. Offsetting their indifferent 41-percent shooting was a mass of free throws: 38 of 42. (The Thunder, which normally dominate at the stripe, went 32-37.) But OKC shot 57 percent, and somehow managed to survive giving up 18 turnovers. (Rebounds were dead even at 40 apiece, but the Kings grabbed more off the offensive glass.)

The season ends back at home, with the Milwaukee Bucks perhaps in the headlights. We can think about the playoffs later.

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Now is the time when we breathe

After going 1-1 on the Left Coast over the weekend, the Thunder were anxious to go into the All-Star break with a win, and they got their first break well before tipoff: Sacramento überguard Tyreke Evans turned up with plantar fasciitis, poor fellow, and the Kings, who didn’t play that badly otherwise, were blown out of Oklahoma City’s Large Indoor Downtown Roundabout to the tune of 126-96.

Your Telltale Statistics: DeMarcus Cousins, fined by the Kings yesterday for an altercation after Saturday night’s game with the Thunder, was the leading scorer for Sacramento with 21; Daequan Cook, epoxied to the OKC bench for much of the season, came up with 20 points to lead the Thunder.

Oh, and this: it was OKC 100, Sacramento 75, after the third quarter. With an abundance of garbage time, Serge Ibaka actually got more minutes than anyone else in home whites, playing 28:12, and all twelve active players put in at least some time. This won’t help Kevin Durant’s average — he finished with 17 — but I suspect he’s happier with the win. And in a mere 25 minutes, Russell Westbrook came up with a skimpy but legitimate double-double: 10 points, 11 assists. The on-again off-again Jeff Green was on again, with 16 points on 7-9 shooting. OKC shot an even 50 percent, and were 3-17 from beyond the arc, except for Cook, who hit five of seven.

The Kings, to their credit, never acted like it was over until the fourth quarter, when the benches were emptied. Cousins reeled in 13 boards to lead everyone. Beno Udrih and Pooh Jeter, splitting duty at the point, each scored in double figures. Apart from a flurry of missed treys — they hit only two of 11 — there really wasn’t much they did wrong; they just weren’t able to do enough against a Thunder defense which actually showed up in the first quarter for once.

And so OKC goes into the break at 35-19. The schedule gets hairy rather quickly afterwards: next Tuesday at home against the Clippers, Wednesday at San Antonio, Friday at Orlando, then back home Sunday against the other L.A. team.

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It’s a T party

The Kings dominated this one early, which should be no surprise to anyone who’s paid any attention to the Thunder lately: they’ve had some seriously weak first-quarter defense of late. Eric Maynor took care of that with a half-court shot to close out the quarter, putting OKC up 27-24; they would not trail again, despite some anxious moments, and they got the win in Sacramento, 99-97.

What was most remarkable about this game was not Maynor’s 50-footer, nifty as it was, but the sheer number of technicals handed out: Maynor got one, Serge Ibaka got another, Russell Westbrook got yet another. (Didn’t seem to be a plot by the officials, since Tyreke Evans also got one.) Evans was making his presence known early on, and he put in more minutes (46) than anyone else. He got two of three free throws with 39 seconds left to pull the Kings within four, and when the Thunder couldn’t come back with a score, Evans delivered another layup. Kevin Durant earned a trip to the foul line with 5.9 left, but sent up a pair of bricks. Evans fired a trey for the win, which didn’t land, Omar Casspi tried to put it back, but that was the end of it.

Six Kings hit double figures, led by Evans with 30; DeMarcus Cousins got the only double-double of the night, with 14 points and 12 rebounds. Sacramento got most of the rebounds (49-36), most of the assists (18-12), and that late 12-2 run; had this game gone to overtime, I suspect the Kings would have won it handily.

Durant, in spite of those chunks of masonry — he missed five of 13 from the line — still managed to accumulate 35 points; Westbrook came up with 22 before disappearing late, Maynor running the point towards the end. (As of this writing, no one has explained why.) If you buy this plus/minus stuff, consider this: all the Thunder starters finished minus, all the bench players finished plus. James Harden had 11 points and five steals; Maynor finished with nine points. The Uncle Jeff factor: Green had eight points and four boards, which might qualify as “meh.”

It’s tomorrow night at Golden State, then back home to play these same Kings on Tuesday. It’s not going to be any easier, I suspect.

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Band wagon

Sports guys have their superstitions: former Astros infielder Craig Biggio, for instance, never washed his batting helmet until the season was over.

George Hill of the San Antonio Spurs wears something called a “balance bracelet,” and he swears by it. The rest of the team? Not so much:

“Have you heard of a placebo?” Manu [Ginobili] asked.

Hill didn’t follow.

“It’s a Spanish word,” Richard Jefferson chimed in, jokingly.

This might not matter so much, except that the manufacturer, a firm called Power Balance, is reported to be the high bidder for the naming rights to the (soon to be) former Arco Arena in Sacramento, so we may be hearing more about these little confidence-builders.

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