by Charlie O. Mallonee
The Kings plan for Saturday night in Denver was simple and straight forward. Leave Cousins and Rondo at home to rest, give the younger players some much needed playing time and put on a good show in the “Mile High City”.
No there was no mention of winning the game. Wins are secondary for Sacramento at this point in the season. In fact, the Kings need to finish in the bottom 10 of the NBA overall standings to avoid losing their 2016 first-round draft pick (listen to this week’s Kings podcast for the details). It is not that the Kings do not want to win but winning might not be that helpful at this moment.
Something strange can happen when you give the second unit a chance to play more minutes. Those second unit guys want to step up and show the world they got game. That is what happened on Saturday in Denver.
The Kings allowed the Nuggets to set the pace in the first half. Denver scored 62 points in the first half and appeared to ready to run the Kings off the court in the second half, but someone from the Nuggets forgot to tell Seth Curry to go along the plan.
Curry carried the Kings on his back in the first half scoring 17 points while connecting on 7-of-8 shots from the floor. The Kings would go on to score 55 first-half points and trailed the Nuggets by just seven points at the half.
The teams played an even third quarter with the Kings outscoring the Nuggets 29-26 in the period. The Nuggets still had an 88-84 after three quarters.
The Kings caught fire in the fourth quarter outscoring the Nuggets 31-18 in final 12 minutes. Darren Collison led the charge for Sacramento scoring 10 of his 14 points in last quarter. Collison shot 2-for-4 from the floor and converted 6-of-7 opportunities from the free throw line. He also dished out four assists. Ben McLemore scored eight points and Rudy Gay added five points in the period.
At the final buzzer, the Kings had beaten the Nuggets 115-106 to record their 31st win of the season.
Rudy Gay led the Kings scoring attack on Saturday with 25 points. Gay also grabbed nine rebounds and had three assists. He shot 7-for-18 from the floor and an impressive 10-for-13 from the charity stripe.
Willie Cauley-Stein, Ben McLemore and Darren Collison scored 14 points each.
Kosta Koufos and James Anderson added 13 points each.
The most impressive stat of the night for the Kings was their assists to turnover ratio of 4-to-1. Sacramento had 27 assists and turned the ball over just seven times. Not bad for a team that has been averaging 16 turnovers per game.
Sacramento was also strong at the free throw line hitting on 25-of-31 attempts for a 80.6- free throw shooting percentage. For the season, the Kings have shot just 72.7-percent from the free throw line.
This was also just third time the Kings have won when DeMarcus Cousins did not play in the game. They have lost 11 games when Cousins was not available.
Gary Harris led the Nuggets in scoring with 19 points. Harris had four rebounds and two assists to go with those 19 points.
Rookie Emmanuel Mudiay had a strong game scoring 15 points and dishing out six assists. Mudiay did foul out of the game.
Joffrey Lauvergne played a strong 24 minutes off the bench for Denver. He scored 15 points, grabbed six rebounds and had two assists in those minutes on the floor.
Alex Toupane scored a career-high 14 points off the bench for the Nuggets.
The Kings have just three games left to play in Sleep Train (Arco) Arena. Portland visits Sacramento on Tuesday and Minnesota comes calling on Thursday night. The Kings final game ever in the arena they have called home for 28 years will take place next Saturday night when they host Oklahoma City Thunder. This reporter will be filing the story live from the arena that night.