Kings beat Cavaliers on road and other thoughts

Well it's been awhile since I compared Boogie Cuz to Marvin from The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (and I'm right dammit!), but well, apparently DeMarcus Cousins got the message about what passing actually means from the right spots on the floor. It's amazing (and depressing) that the best passer on this team is Cousins who also leads the team in Field Goal attempts (not a strength).

When your Center took 17 shot attempts (some of which were tips which is okay with me given how Cousins rebounds) and only  makes 7, I can live with it. Some of the misses were makeable and in time I think Cousins can get more efficient. But overall, the fact that there was 17 shot attempts taken with a modicum of control behind them is new. This is new news. In fact, this Cousins, the 1st half Cousins against Cleveland especially, is an All-Star no question. That Cousins changes the game for teammates, and that Cousins is finally walking the walk rather than just simply mouthing off about it. It's amazing how often that Cousins mouthing off is all there to it and ends up being the case. Since Cousins has come back against New York, there has been assists totals of 5, 10, 2 and tonight was 6. In 23 games prior to the latest blowup against Keith Smart, Cousins had a total of 48 assists in 23 games for a paltry sum of just under 2.1 assists a game. In the 4 games since returning we are talking 21 assists in 4 games for 5.25 assists a night. Rather large difference yeah?

I'll lay this on the table right here and now. I don't think Cousins is going to be traded, and I don't think the Maloofs will accept anything less than a Dwight Howard level player in return. Since that won't happen in this lifetime, Cousins is likely staying. If this Cousins we have seen in the previous 4 games shows up, this Cousins can help the Kings win a lot more "alleviating some of the stress" all the losing has caused him.

This DeMarcus Cousins is a 20-14-5 guy, and that is worth a whole lot in this league. I hope DeMarcus keeps that in mind moving forward, but given his history it's hard not to expect a blowup of epic porportions too. If Boogie keeps it under control for the rest of the season, one would be hard pressed to say the Kings MUST blow it all up. 

In fact, once Evans returns hopefully 100% healthy and ready to go, the only question left is can Cousins and Evans take this team to the level that both talent's promise they are capable of. Both complement each other in real ways, but if they don't work together moving forward this team is sunk. It's interesting if both can sacrifice the necessary things to create the necessary things in other ways for both themselves and teammates moving forward. It's often been speculated that what this Kings team needs is a pure PG, but that's pure horseshit. What this team needs is for Evans to embrace his being the best talent and player and perform with play to match. What Cousins needs to do is facilitate the offense more and stop trying to be the 25 point a night guy he has seemingly wanted to be since enterting the league. A facilitating big man, especially when you lack a pure facilitator in your G corps, is especially useful to have. Which makes the recent stretch of play by Cousins so incredibly important.

All that's left, and has been for quite awhile, is whether Evans and Cousins both have the will and commitment to make this thing work.


Onto the bullet points…..

  • For all the people who keep claiming Aaron Brooks should not be getting more minutes than Isaiah Thomas, they are clearly  not paying close enough attention to what's going on the court at the moment. Brooks has justified the minutes he has played (minus the first half at Detroit that was just ugly for everyone involved in that exchange) and that is that. I'm not saying Thomas shouldn't start, but Brooks is a professional who brings things to the table. Let's recognize the logjam, move on and hope it can be resolved by the ever increasing illusionist Geoff Petrie.
  • Speaking of Isaiah "not Isiah" Thomas, I thought Isaiah had a very poor game managing the team against Cleveland. The good news is the Kings had Brooks to manage the game (who did it more effectively), but Isaiah must grow in this area if he wants to remain a starter in this league. Both the constant turnovers (a problem last night in Detroit) and shot jacking are not what this team needs from a young man with real innate leadership qualities. Isaiah knows better, and needs to remember who and what he is in this league if he wants a long term career as a starter. (I think Isaiah can do it FWIW.)
  • Jason Thompson is just chugging along racking up double double's.JT got his 10th double double tonight on the season, and is doing nicely in most phases on the game. The one area I love to see JT working so well out in is the hedging JT is doing nightly trying to stop more penetration. JT led the team in minutes with 36 (Cousins had Garcia each had 34 and Salmons had 32) on a team that had 4 starters reach 30 minutes not seen too often with this group in recent months and, indeed, seasons. This is a positive trend, but my  favorite thing about JT is this: JT took 16 shot attempts, but like Cousins some of those were tips at the basket trying to get baskets. The Kings had 15 offensive rebounds, and Thompson/Cousins had 10 of those between the two of them. When both are relatively efficient as both were for the most part (Cousins slipped at the end), the offensive rebounding of both makes a huge difference for a team that is not always taking good shots. 
  • I don't know whether Jason Thompson's technical is warranted or not, but 5 T's for JT is too many. Gotta tighten it up FWIW. On the other hand, it could be just an issue with Gary Zielinski too (who tossed Cousins out against Utah) and that bias is a tough thing to deal with. Whatever the case, JT under control is a very good player for this team. Which really matters.
  • Love that Keith Smart was able to use Jimmer at the end to hit some FT's to help close out the game. While I'm not happy Aaron Brooks missed his 2nd of 2 FT's that would have guaranteed the win, I am happy Smart was able to use Jimmer in a way that guaranteed the Kings could get their best FT shooter FT's with the game on line. Jimmer didn't have a great game tonight, and that happens. Jimmer is coming along though, and some of those 3's against Detroit were just flat out cold-blooded and spectacularly awesome. I thought Smart going with the bench was atypical (and I wasn't happy about it really until about the 5 minute mark), but it worked in that moment. That team just couldn't get over the hump. 
  • Oh, and for all the people saying," Wouldn't you have taken Kawhi Leonard over Jimmer still?" Of course I would. But I didn't and this is the team that the Kings have right or wrong. That's not Jimmer's fault that Geoff Petrie has done some unforgivable things that include  missing Andre Drummond from the '12 draft. I could spend the rest of my life going "what if", but the reality is that is no fun. Deal with this group, and that includes Jimmer and Thomas Robinson for that matter.
  • Speaking of Mr Robinson, this kid is pretty close to keeping it together if he can just slow down a bit. Once he does, I think Thomas Robinson has a real future in this league. It's just understanding himself and stop trying to prove the world that he was the real #1 pick.
  • John Salmons is an unsung hero of late, and understandably so. I like Mr Salmons personally, and think his presence is badly underrated by many fans (and media too) at the moment. The defense, the timely play, the energy and ball movement by Salmons has really helped this team progress in recent games. When John Salmons is at his best, this Kings team can be tough to beat. Salmons 3 at the end of the game off Cousins' pass was  a classic example of why I love John Salmons. He was 0-3 from 3 and never hesitated to shoot it. He knew it was going in. But by all means, let's just trade a reasonably producing veteran at a position the Kings are desperate to even have average production at even though said veteran is not an actual SF by any real measure. But what are details right?
  • After showing some real progress over the last several weeks, James Johnson did not play his best tonight in Cleveland. Which is unfortunate, but it is what it is. Johnson sometimes forgets that when he plays under control he is a dynamite force that is difficult to deal with. Hopefully he gets it at some point because Johnson's defense (but not his rebounding which is strange because he has rebounded well in both Toronto and Chicago in previous stops) is a necessary component for the Kings not being complete sieve's for shots at the rim.
  • I love Francisco Garcia. The guy has had every up and down imaginable for a veteran player, and here he is keying significant runs at both ends of the court that had an impact on the game. I don't know if Cisco should stay in Sacramento long term, but I do know that Cisco's play of late has been much better which is important if the Kings are going to continue moving up in the standings (12-20 currently).
  • If the Kings can win in Toronto and Brooklyn, I'll say this is by far the most successful road trip this Kings team has had since the 50 win teams 10 years ago. Or at the very least since the 05-06 team with Artest after being traded to the Kings.
  • Defensive rebounding. Despite having a quality defensive rebounder in DeMarcus Cousins, a quality D boarder coming out of Kansas in Thomas Robinson, a plus rebounder in Tyreke Evans and James Johnson, and a pretty good rebounder in Jason Thompson, this Kings team is 2nd to last in DRB% and it's not very hard to figure out why. One issue is that Cousins needs to get better, as does Thompson and Johnson, and the other is that Thomas Robinson simply needs to get on the court for more minutes to make a real impact on that end. When that happens is anyone's guess because T-Rob isn't giving Keith Smart a whole lot of reasons to give him a whole fistful of grip minutes that would illustrate T-Rob's innate talent. But even if Robinson were getting a reasonable amount of minutes, this team is still struggling on that end. My solution is simple: Gang rebounding. When this team does that, and it does not always, this team can get the boards. That focus needs to remain if this team gets out into the open court for the ever elusive easy basket.

Bottom line. The last 4 games have been against Eastern Conference teams and with a record of 3 wins against 1 loss, that makes the Kings record against the East 6-7 with 2 more games having been completed by Saturday. The good news is if the Kings win the next 2 games that the Kings will have 4 road wins on the season with 3 coming after the calender flipped to 2013 much to the Mayans chagrin. The bad news is that the Kings will be 8-7 against the East assuming they beat both Toronto and Brooklyn on Friday/Saturday, and that leaves 2 games against Miami, Philadelphia and 3 games against Boston, New York and Chicago remaining. There aren't many games left for the Kings to take advantage of against East opponents so stepping up their game will be critical if this team is to reverse the trend and make a real move up the standings. The good news is that I think this team has the talent, even with Tyreke Evans and Marcus Thornton out (I'll get to that in a minute), to make that run. The bad news is that this team has dropped the ball in the recent past when momentum has been there for this team to make a move, and DeMarcus Cousins in particular must make it a mission to behave better for the rest of this season if winning is in fact such a big deal to him as he so often claims. As Keith Smart said postgame after the game tonight," It's time to walk the walk." #Yessir

As far as Evans and Thornton being out, I think it's helping these guys figure out minutes and roles and with that thinning out the rotation (gee imagine that?) is a must if this team is going to go on a sustained run. No team, especially one like the Kings, can really maintain a 11 man rotation effectively long term, and it's really unrealistic that anyone would expect the Kings to do so. I think Smart could make it work, but someone is going to have lose minutes if you are going to play Evans and Thornton their typical allotment of minutes. This needs to change if the Kings are going  to make a move me thinks.

Last thought. It's nice to see that their is not a complete black hole and the Kings can win games by playing defense (39% shooting hello?), playing relatively sound (only 10 turnovers on the road is a spectacular number), and getting quality performances by  many individuals is how you win on the road. It's also, strangely enough, how you win more games than you lose which is something that has been ailing this group for quite awhile now. We are not at the point where we can wonder if the talent is there. We are at the point where all that's left is if Evans/Cousins can  mesh, and if the rest of the roster can start meshing along with them if they get their act together. If that happens, this team will play better. if this team continues to play as 14 individuals (as they have for long stretches earlier in the season), we will see the same crap continue. 

Savor the road wins. For a young team that has struggled on the road, it's not inconceivable this group loses another 10 in a row before winning another.

In otherwords, we are right back to where we are at the start of the year only 32 games have passed and we are 2 months into the season without Tyreke Evans and a healthy knee. Good times.

If you do not read Stepien Rules, Bloguin's Cavs blog, you probably really should. Brendan Bowers and the Stepien Rules crew do a terrific job pursuing all kinds of related Cavs information.

Until next time then.