Return of (some) Kings

Today’s version of the Sacramento Kings could fairly be described as “depleted”; Tyreke Evans, Rudy Gay and Ben McLemore were not available, and Arron Afflalo did not travel with the team for personal reasons. The 63-41 halftime score reflects this situation to a certain extent; however, the Kings who remained put up a decent fight in the second half, outscoring the Thunder 53-47. It wasn’t enough to give Sacramento the win — OKC tucked the W away, 110-94 — but it did make for a more entertaining spectacle than one might have expected.

The Sacramento reserves, in fact, collected bigger numbers than did the starters. Big man Georgios Papagiannis put together a double-double with 14 points and 11 rebounds; Skal Labissiere followed with 13. (The top scorer among the King starters was Buddy Hield, who pocketed 11.) Still, everyone in purple was on the minus side, and all the Thundermen were plus except Jerami Grant, who played one minute of garbage time.

Once again, OKC shot 50 percent, and two double-doubles were recorded, by Russell Westbrook (28 points, 10 assists) and Steven Adams (16 points, 13 boards). And the rise of Doug McDermott, who shot 8 of 9 for 21 points (4-5 from the three-point line), elicited several delighted eruptions from Loud City. Still, the Thunder were not all that wonderful in the second half, and Billy Donovan will give them a tongue-lashing or two before Monday night, when the dreaded Golden State Warriors arrive. There’s slightly less dread than usual — Kevin Iscariot is not going to suit up — but GS is still the top team in the West, if by less of a margin than they were early in the season. And the Thunder have lost three in a row to the Warriors; it would be nice to trounce them in front of the home crowd.


Jacking the Kings

The Golden 1 Center in downtown Sacramento cost something like $550 million to build, with 17,608 seats available for roundball. The place was quite full tonight, but the Kings weren’t quite at their best: they put together some stirring runs, but the Thunder were always able to swat them back, even without Steven Adams, who retired to the locker room with the dreaded Concussion-Like Symptoms, which means he may have to go through the standard NBA concussion protocol and perhaps won’t be available for tomorrow night’s game in Los Angeles. With time called at 5:32 left, the Thunder had just finished an 11-2 run to claim a 15-point lead over the Kings; within a minute, the Kings had (stirringly) scored six in a row. The OKC swat team promptly took hold of the situation, only to see Sacramento come alive in the last minute. With 47 seconds left, the Kings pulled to within seven; a Russell Westbrook dunk stanched that bleeding, DeMarcus Cousins dropped in a pair of free throws, and after a steal, Cousins nailed another one; at 26.5, Rudy Gay tossed up a trey to make it a three-point game. Alex Abrines delivered two free throws of his own, the Thunder fouled Cousins again, and this time he got three of ’em. The Kings promptly fouled Victor Oladipo, who swished two freebies to make it 120-116, and Westbrook, who apparently had had enough, swiped the ball from the Kings and stuffed it into the net. There would be a jumper from Darren Collison at the buzzer, but too late: Oklahoma City 122, Sacramento 118.

Four Kings starters rolled up double figures, and Garrett Temple just missed with eight; both Cousins and Gay made double-doubles, with Cousins knocking down a stirring (there it is again) 31. Sacramento actually outshot OKC, 46 to 44 percent, and tied them for rebounds at 44. The Kings also had the advantage in assists, 24-20. But what they didn’t have was, as radio guy Matt Pinto says, The Force. Westbrook’s 20th triple-double (36-11-10) was nearly matched by Enes Kanter’s 29-12 showing. For what it’s worth, Westbrook was -1 for the night despite all those digits.

Tomorrow night — late tomorrow night — it’s the Clippers at the Staples Center. I hope everyone’s Sort of Rested, because the Clips have won six in a row.


Are we there yet?

The new home for the Sacramento Kings is the Golden 1 Center, named for a credit union, located in the Downtown Commons. At some point in the second quarter tonight I got the feeling that the Thunder had somehow drifted back to the old Sleep Train Arena; both offense and defense seemed a bit sleepy at times. Down three at the half, Oklahoma City was outscored 36-27 in the third, and the Kings just kept on coming; halfway through the fourth Anthony Morrow, who hadn’t made a three-point shot all season, somehow made a three-point shot — and an and-one. This brought the Thunder back to within ten, but by then the game was essentially over, and when the horn sounded the Kings were 116-101 winners.

All the standard statistical categories favored Sacramento, though this one is the most dramatic: the Kings shot 47 percent (44-94), the Thunder 42 percent (32-76). The Purple Gang managed to take 18 more shots, a situation not at all alleviated by the Thunder’s 30-38 free-throw performance. (The Kings hit 16 of 17 from the line.) And the fiction that OKC is a good three-point team persists: seven of 25, 28 percent. (The Kings made 12 of 28.)

Faced with this debacle, the fan wants to know: “Well, how did Russell Westbrook do?” Just short of a triple-double: 31-11-9. But those 31 points include 16 free throws; he was 7-18 from the floor. And besides, DeMarcus Cousins’ own double-double was a bit more impressive: 36 points, 13 boards. (Okay, only two assists. Cousins is a big, okay?) Billy Donovan threw out some new lineups, but none of them seemed effective at the time.

So it’s back to .500, and one more out-West game this week: Friday night at Denver. After that, the Pistons come to OKC, having already thrashed the Thunder in Auburn Hills. Sixteen games in, it’s hard to see these guys as better than an 8 seed, if that.

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Neither Super nor Sonic

I’m wondering just how much I should read into this:

When the Seattle City Council this week blocked a developer’s effort to build a new sports arena and bring professional basketball back to the city, the disappointment among the city’s basketball fans was no surprise.

Many were still pining over the loss of the SuperSonics franchise to Oklahoma City in 2008.

But nobody seemed prepared for the vitriol unleased against the female gender.

The plan was shot down in a 5-4 vote — or more specifically, five women to four men.

I mean, I don’t think this was girls vs. boys, necessarily:

The proposal for a $550-million arena — with $200 million coming from taxpayers — was San Francisco developer Chris Hansen’s attempt to bring a National Basketball Assn. franchise back to Seattle and attract a National Hockey League team.

Disappointed fans couldn’t fathom the council’s refusal to accept a $20-million offer from Hansen to vacate part of a street needed for his arena site near the Seahawks’ and Mariners’ stadiums downtown.

“I think someone should smash Kshama Sawant’s head into a brick wall,” one Twitter user wrote, referring to one of the women who voted no.

“So this is why Ann Coulter has said that women shouldn’t be allowed to vote,” said another online commentor.

Contrary to popular belief, Sawant is the only full-blown socialist on the council.

“Perhaps I risked the promise of new, future jobs,” Councilwoman Lisa Herbold said Thursday, “but my vote was decided in favor of protecting industrial and maritime jobs that we have now so that we can maintain the diversified economy that has kept our region strong in good economic times as well as the downturns.”


And maybe some distaste for Hansen’s ways:

Weeks after his aggressive bid to buy and relocate the Sacramento Kings to Seattle failed, hedge fund manager Chris Hansen bankrolled an effort to undercut a deal the team’s new owners made to build an arena in Sacramento.

Hansen, who donated $100,000 on June 21 to a political action committee attempting to halt the $448 million deal to build the Kings a new downtown arena, says he “made a mistake” by giving a Los Angeles law firm $100,000.

The firm of Loeb & Loeb secretly funneled $80,000 to a group gathering signatures to force a public vote on the arena plan, which includes funding of at least $258 million in public money.

Leaving ten grand for each Loeb, I guess.

(Via Fark.)

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Nobody sleeping here

The last NBA game ever at Sleep Train Arena, formerly Arco Arena, might well have been every bit as loud as the games during the Good Old Days, one of which made it into Guinness, and the Sacramento Kings took full advantage of that noisy crowd to administer a thrashing to the Thunder, 114-112, evening the season series at two games each (1-1 in both Oklahoma City and Sacramento) and making some folks wonder how OKC is going to get through a whole playoff round if they can’t beat a team with 48 losses. It was mostly close all night, with the Thunder managing to win the first and third quarters, the Kings the second and fourth. This is not to say that the Kings had it easy in that final frame: with 24 seconds left, the Kings were up seven, but seventeen seconds later, that lead was cut to three, and Russell Westbrook knocked out three free throws to tie it. After “the longest five-count” radio guy Matt Pinto said he’d ever seen, a foul was called, Rudy Gay, who’d obligingly missed a few free throws in those waning moments, hit two of them, and that was the end of that.

Part of the problem for the Thunder was Curry. No, not Steph, but his younger brother Seth, coming off the Kings bench to collect 20 points, hitting six of ten treys. Darren Collison, running the offense while Rajon Rondo got some rest, had 27 points, his season high, and those Rudy Gay freebies brought him up to 22. The Kings, as noted, had problems from the stripe, hitting only 11 of 20, but they more than made up for that with actual field goals, 45-94 versus 39-80. (Weirdly, both teams were 13-32 from outside the arc.) And as has been often the case, the glaring number was 21: the number of turnovers given up by the Thunder. The Kings coughed it up only 11 times. Westbrook ended up with 24 points and 10 assist, the game’s only double-double; Kevin Durant made it up to 31, but he had to make 29 shots to get there.

None of this changes the playoff picture. OKC, third in the West, will play the #6 team; both Portland and Memphis lost tonight, leaving the Blazers in fifth, half a game in front of the Griz. The Rockets are in ninth, one game behind the Jazz with three to play. The marquee game tomorrow, of course, is Golden State at San Antonio: no team, not even the mighty Warriors, has beaten the Spurs at home all year. It says something about this season that even that game doesn’t change the playoff picture.

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A day without purpose

There were several times tonight when you had to wonder just what the pluperfect hell was going on. Certainly radio guy Matt Pinto was seriously perplexed, early on when Quincy Acy was rung up for a technical on an incident to which Acy was, well, incidental; late in the second, when Rajon Rondo ran up two consecutive technicals for delay of game by inexplicably failing to inbound the ball; and early in the fourth, when he threw up his hands (so to speak) and despaired of ever getting a proper definition of a clear-path foul. Meanwhile, DeMarcus Cousins kept crashing through the paint to the net, undeterred by Thunder defenders or by a brief ankle tweaking in the third quarter. The official Thunder response seemed to be “Meh, we’re winning.” And so they did, 131-116, despite failing to keep Cousins or any of the other Kings out of the paint for long.

Nice stuff: Enes Kanter missed nothing all night, 11-11 and 1-1 on a free throw for 23 points. (Actually, I think Acy goaltended one of those.) And you have to figure that any time Dion Waiters and Kyle Singler both end up in double digits is a good night. (Waiters had 22 and a game-high +30; Singler finished with 11.) Of course, there are those Other Guys: Kevin Durant with 27 and 10 boards, and yet another Russell Westbrook triple-double (20-13-15). Here’s the number that explains it all, though: the Thunder made 47 of 82 shots. The Kings made 48 shots, but it took them 107 tries. Twenty-two offensive rebounds will do that for you.

Still, you don’t mess with Cousins, who despite going 14-33 led all scorers with 35, plus collecting 12 rebounds. And if the Kings’ game plan occasionally seemed repetitive — give it to Cousins inside and let him pound his way through — it was also fairly effective, producing 72 points in the paint, clearly indicating that Cousins wasn’t the only one who could score inside. Six Kings in double figures say the same.

Nothing wrong with starting a road trip with a win. But the crux of this particular biscuit arrives Wednesday and Thursday: the Clippers and the Warriors in succession. The Kings, for now, can be forgotten.

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Sacramentally sound

Said Royce Young at halftime: “Hard to believe it was 31-14 Thunder eight minutes in to this one.” And at halftime, it was Kings 68, Thunder 66. It’s almost painful to do the math: Sacramento rolled up 54 points in 16 minutes. This isn’t the most unheard-of thing you ever heard of: they wore out the Phoenix Suns Saturday to the tune of 142-119, and they did it in 48 minutes. But this is where it gets scary: the Kings had scored only 59 points in the first half of that game, meaning they rang up 83 in the second.

This wasn’t going to happen tonight: both offenses were bogged down in the third quarter. The Kings, however, recovered more quickly, and while they managed only 22 points in that frame, Oklahoma City was held to a pitiful 16. In the fourth, desperation — what else could it be? — led Billy Donovan to try to hack Rajon Rondo, a relatively crummy foul shooter. But in every other aspect, Rondo outplayed Russell Westbrook, who had One Of Those Nights: 17 points, 15 assists, and a woeful 6-23 from the floor. And the Kings, who had never, ever won in OKC, finally nailed down a W, 116-104.

The absence of Kevin Durant (sprained big toe) was keenly felt: both Serge Ibaka (25 points) and Anthony Morrow (20) logged season highs, and Ibaka blocked five shots, but the Kings still had their way. Part of this was Rondo’s doing: okay, he was 3-8 from the stripe, but 13 points and 19 assists should tell you who was making things happen. And where Rondo wasn’t, DeMarcus Cousins was: 33 points, 19 rebounds. Blame the zebras? I don’t think so, even though OKC was 16-23 on free throws, Sacramento 29-39. There’s 13 points right there.

The Grizzlies are coming to town late (8:30) Wednesday. Will KD be back? If not, how bad can things get?

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Kings deposed, but barely

Sacramento played this one very close for the first half and enough of the second to spur Billy Donovan to a serious timeout lecture. I have no idea what he said, but the Thunder’s feeble three-point lead at halftime grew to 17 and was still 12 going into the fourth quarter. The Kings, however, were not about to go away, and halfway through that quarter they reduced that deficit to three, prompting Donovan to bring back all the starters. It didn’t help; the Kings went up 93-86 inside the three-minute mark. “Turnovers,” said radio guy Matt Pinto, “are the issue.” And then free throws became the issue: Kevin Durant missed one of two, Russell Westbrook missed one of two, then DeMarcus Cousins missed two of two, and a Durant pullup jumper finally put the Thunder back up one with 23 seconds left. Steven Adams swatted away a Kings shot; Darren Collison was getting ready to foul Adams when Adams called a time out. With 4.4 seconds left, Durant finally made two foul shots in a row, making it Thunder 98, Kings 95; Marco Belinelli put up a desperation trey that never got close to the rim, and that was the end of that.

And really, if Cousins had had a better night, the Kings probably would have walked away with this one: DMC was 5-20 and 3-9 from the line, though he did collect 10 rebounds. Factor out Cousins, and Sacramento hits 44 percent; with him, and they failed to clear 40. Not that OKC was much better, at a shade under 41 percent. The Thunder did pick up a whopping 62 rebounds to the Kings’ 41. Then again, Sacramento coughed up the ball a mere 14 times, two-thirds of the Thunder’s hackwork. And weirdly, both Durant and Westbrook went 7-13 from the floor; KD had 20 points, while Westbrook eased, to the extent that Westbrook can ease, to a 19-11-10 triple-double. Rudy Gay led the Kings with 20. This was not a night for heroball.

Next outing: in Memphis. The Grizzlies will be, yes, as Grizzly as ever.

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Purple predators

The Kings have never won in Oklahoma City, and it would have been a genuinely lousy time for them to do it now. But it’s unreasonable to expect any team, especially any George Karl-coached team, to just lie down and die, and the Thunder, still seemingly stunned after several recent misadventures, had a great deal of trouble putting Sacramento away. In the end, OKC prevailed, 116-103, but the Pelicans trounced the Suns 90-75, so no ground was gained on New Orleans, and perhaps worse, Perry Jones came down on his ankle with 24 seconds left.

On the upside, the offense was spread around a bit: Russell Westbrook collected the night’s only double-double — 27 points, 10 assists — Enes Kanter knocked down 25, Dion Waiters 22, and Anthony Morrow 19 off the bench. Inexplicably, the Thunder attempted thirty-one treys, nailing ten. (Half of those were scored by Morrow.) Sacramento led the rebound race, 50-47, but somehow OKC gave up only seven turnovers, the Kings yielding on sixteen.

The Kings’ brace of youngish guards, Ben McLemore and Ray McCallum, scored 20 and 17 respectively. Derrick Williams led the bench with 17. But perhaps the most interesting aspect of the Kings’ presence was the brief appearance of Gursimran Bhullar, from Punjab via Toronto, a seven-five, 340-pound behemoth on a 10-day contract, who played the last 63 seconds, blocking a shot and serving up an assist. Sim, as they call him, is the first NBA player of Indian descent.

Three games to go: at Indiana Sunday, vs. Portland at the Peake on Monday, and at Minnesota on Wednesday to close it out. Somehow the Thunder must win one more than the Pelicans, who face the Rockets and the Wolves on the road, and then the Spurs at home. I don’t even want to know what the Las Vegas line is.

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When it’s good to be the Kings

Sacramento, which has not been enormously successful against Oklahoma City in recent years, tonight managed to leverage these two possibly unrelated circumstances: a hitherto-unnoticed ability to draw fouls in mass quantities, and some downright clumsy play by the opponents. Multiply by the turnover differential, season with Michael Cage intonations of “Tough call,” and the Kings take a surprisingly easy win, 104-83.

As Royce Young put it ¾ of the way through: “Never seen the Thunder quite this discombobulated.” At the 3:45 mark, Scott Brooks opted to empty the bench; the Kings followed suit shortly thereafter, and life went on at subsonic speeds. The Thunder, who shot 31 percent against the Warriors night before last, managed to bring that up to almost, but not quite, 33 percent. Sacramento defense was okay, but not brilliant; OKC simply went through long periods of inability to buy a bucket. Kevin Durant was 8-20 (24 points), and that was one of the better showings: Anthony Morrow was 3-12 (8 points), and newly arrived sharpshooter Dion Waiters was 1-9 (4 points). To be fair to Waiters, who is widely considered to have next to nothing in defensive skills, he did come up with a block and a steal. What I want to know, though, was who was that wearing Russell Westbrook’s jersey? Westbrook himself would never tolerate 3-19 from the floor.

By general agreement, Sacramento has three starting scoring threats, and all lived up to their reputations tonight: both Rudy Gay and Darren Collison were 9-19 from the floor; Gay, who hit all three of his treys, finished with 28, and Collison, 5-10 from outside, with 24. In the middle was DeMarcus Cousins, who did not shoot well — 6-23 — but who still scored 23 while pulling down 15 rebounds and sinking 11 of 13 foul shots. And treys mattered: while the Kings shot only 39 percent, they knocked down 10 of 19 three-pointers. (The Thunder, should you ask, went 9-30.)

About the only good thing about this horrific road trip is that it’s only two games long, and therefore over. The Jazz will waltz into OKC Friday night, followed by a truly scary back-to-back: at Houston on the following Thursday, and back home to face the Warriors again. By then, perhaps, someone will have taught this team some offense, and it won’t be Josh Heupel. Meanwhile, I cede the last word to Royce Young: “The Thunder are 0-2 with losses of 26 and 21 since trading Lance Thomas. I think you can read between the lines here.”

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Definitely not cabbages

Hard to get a handle on this Kings game before tipoff. We knew that Sacramento had just sacked Mike Malone, and Tyrone Corbin was anxious to prove himself as the coach. We knew that there was bad blood, or at least trash talk, between Rudy Gay and Kendrick Perkins. And we knew that DeMarcus Cousins was still out. Based on this, I assumed it was going to be a long haul, and so it was: the Thunder led by seven at halftime, by ten at the end of the third, but the Kings bench rose up and inflicted a 15-4 run on the Thunder to take a one-point lead. The OKC starters returned, a bit earlier than expected, but finished the job with 73 seconds left. Oklahoma City 104, Sacramento 92, a nice preparation for the Warriors, next on the schedule. (It didn’t hurt that the Warriors actually lost tonight, against the one team I thought could beat them: the Grizzlies.)

Despite DeAbsence of DeMarcus, the Kings were plenty tough. Reggie Evans started in the middle, spelled by Ryan Hollins. Gay had a good night, coming up with 22 points and six rebounds; Hollins and Jason Thompson contributed nine rebounds each; Carl Landry and Ramon Sessions hit double figures for the Sacramento bench, which outscored the OKC reserves 44-28. The Kings also ruled the backboards, with a 48-41 edge in rebounding, and performed well at the stripe, going 15-17.

Of late, the big story for OKC has been Russell Westbrook, and tonight was no exception: 32 points, six rebounds, seven assists, four steals, and a single turnover. (The Thunder gave it up only 12 times, the Kings 19.) Kevin Durant, in 35 minutes, popped up 26 points. Serge Ibaka didn’t shoot well — 3-10 for nine points — but he blocked seven shots. Steven Adams, once again, had double-digit rebounding (10); Anthony Morrow scored 10 to lead the bench. Kendrick Perkins did not outscore Rudy Gay, but by all accounts he outscowled him.

Next: Thursday night in Oakland, where the Warriors have lost only once all year. Where it gets interesting: Golden State, 21-3, is 9-1 over the last ten. Oklahoma City, 12-13, is — 9-1 over the last ten. Still, the Warriors remain the team to beat in the West, so if the Thunder can pull this off … well, we’ll know Friday morning.

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Mutual disdain

The Kings, in days gone by, could pretty much count on being thrashed in Oklahoma City. Tonight, they came in with a stellar 5-1 record with their hopes high, but with their coach warning that even a 1-5 Thunder is still the Thunder and not to be underestimated. And Mike Malone was right, at least for the first half: OKC came on strong and took a 52-39 lead at the half. Then the Thunder faded, allowing the Kings to approach to within a bucket; it was 67-65 OKC through three. Scott Brooks shrugged and shuffled the lineup yet again, and the Thunder responded with a 5-0 run over 44 seconds to go back up seven. Thus reenergized, OKC proceeded to deal the Kings their umpteenth consecutive loss in the Big Breezy, though not before several anxious moments: the final was Oklahoma City 101, Sacramento 93.

Unexpected bonuses for the Thunder: Nick Collison’s fourth and fifth treys of the season — he’d had only four all of last year — and seven points in less than eight minutes from Ish Smith, the temporary third point guard. And free throws, an issue of late, weren’t a problem tonight, with OKC knocking down 23 of 27. (The Kings, who were leading the NBA in charity-stripe prowess, were held to 15-22.) No double-doubles, though Jeremy Lamb (17 points, 9 rebounds) and Serge Ibaka (14/9) came close; Reggie Jackson posted a team-high 22 points.

Rudy Gay did come up with a double-double for Sacramento: 23 points, 10 boards. DeMarcus Cousins and Ben McLemore added 16 each; Cousins was his usual fearsome self on defense, and McLemore knocked down four of six treys, generally at inopportune moments. Is this a playoff team? Too early to tell, but I’m thinking they’re too good to finish near the bottom.

There follows a back-to-back sequence on the road — in Milwaukee on Tuesday, in Boston on Wednesday — before the Thunder return home Friday for a match with the somewhat-improved Detroit Pistons.

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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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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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