Posted by: natehughart | February 3, 2012

Kings play NBA level defense in the 2nd half against the Blazers; win 95-92

The headline really says it all. In the 2nd half, the Kings play NBA level defense and ultimately come out on top. That’s really the bottom line. And to the bullet points we go…..

* I hate watching illegal streams. I usually have terrible luck with them, but tonight I didn’t. I’m grateful. (And would have much rather gone to a sports bar to watch it anyway.)

* Tyreke Evans has to develop a mid range jump shot, a left hand and better consistent shooting form. I will say that I thought Tyreke’s setup’s were of high quality for the most part, and the worst decisions were with shooting the ball. The defense by Tyreke was pretty solid if not excellent all night. All in all a fair performance by him. But without an evolving offensive repertoire, shooting poorly is all Tyreke will eventually muster.

If there is anything that makes me a bit wary of saying Tyreke has turned a real corner, it’s that the Blazers weren’t without Batum and Tyreke didn’t take necessary advantage of a player’s absence who gives Tyreke fits all the time. I’ll say that’s a minor quibble though. (It’s not, but I’m being nice.)

One note about the long shot that Tyreke hit: All it did was go in. This was one of the better players I’ve seen Tyreke make in the open court. (Also loved that Jerry compared it to Tyreke hitting the hole as a halfback.)

* DeMarcus Cousins needs to find a way to play more than 14 mins against the Blazers. When he was on the court, and from what I saw tonight, Smart kept him off the court for very long stretches. If Cuz doesn’t learn how to keep himself on the court, it’s pointless to talk about being a duo like what Oklahoma City has. Also, it’s pointless to talk about being a duo if you can’t run a 2 man game with the guy whom you’re supposed to be a duo with. (That is both Reke & Cuz’s fault.)

* Marcus Thornton returned tonight and had some good moments. On letting the shot clock running down so often, I hate that. At some point the Kings need to run a play, and I thought some of that was due to not having Cousins on the court at the end of the game. Running plays matters in the NBA a great deal. If Evans and Thornton won’t run plays at the end of the game, I’ll always be at a loss.

Back to Thornton, his returning from being hit on the head/neck by Gerald Wallace is a nice thing for this team. Thornton hit a big 3 that put the Kings up 5 (at 93-88), and that was nice to see. Seeing Marcus let Gerald Wallace swipe the ball out of his hands so that Portland could get up 2 relatively clean looks at the 3 to close the game is not so good. At least Marcus knows it.

* I wasn’t ready to fire John Salmons as quickly as everyone else and tonight is not really why. (Think more like what happened against the Warriors Tuesday against Monta Ellis.) 8-14 from the field tonight including 3-4 from 3 pt land is a great night in the NBA. Period. John also grabbed 8 rebounds which is a lot better than Gerald Wallace did tonight. I don’t expect John to outpeform Gerald all the time, but it’s nice to see that John could still perform at a high level on a consistent basis for 4 qtr’s. The defense on Wallace/Matthews was stellar all night long, and I thought Salmons moved off the ball well tonight. Tonight John Salmons showed his value as a talented 2 way player. 14 shots won’t happen for him every night, but he did show he can bring it. The only question left: Can it happen consistently? Stay tuned.

An underrated part to what Salmons did tonight was that his offense kept the Blazers from using Wallace to disrupt other players on the Kings as often. Defensively, Salmons certainly disrupted Wallace and limited him to 7 shots. That’s the name of the game yes?

Salmons came into the game shooting 21% from 3 pt land, and left the game shooting over 25% from 3 pt land. Salmons TS% went from 41.5% to 43.5% in one night. That’s doing great work.

* Jason Thompson has made me feel foolish for not believing he would turn a real corner as a player, and I’ve been glad for every moment of it. Tonight JT hit 3 of his 4 FT attempts(!!!!) which now puts his season FT% at 53.7%. (Remember when JT’s FT% was at 37%?) But let’s not forget that Jason Thompson drew the difficult assignment of defending LaMarcus Aldridge who absolutely cut the Kings up in the 1st half. Coming out, JT did a great job of front and denying LMA the ball. Additionally, the help defense and energy that JT provides has been a joy. Despite all the negative things that have gone on with this team, JT has been a positive bright spot. (Also one reason I’m skeptical that players weren’t asked to improve under Paul Westphal.) It’s been a pleasure to see. JT’s TS% (after a 5-7 shooting night from the field and a 3-4 line is now sitting at a 55.5% (came into the game at 54.5%). I’m interested to see how JT’s ORtg/DRtg looks tonight after the 2nd half defense that saw the Kings give up 36 points. Jason also played a second short of 33 minutes as well. It simply doesn’t get better than that. JT made a few mistakes (like passing the ball in the lane rather than shooting it late), but that’s very minor stuff.

* JJ Hickson showed off his athleticism with this amazing dunk off an excellent lob by Marcus Thornton (seeing it initially I thought it wasn’t a very good lob by MT23–I was very wrong):

It was nice to see Hickson get to show off his athleticism and do the things he is always capable of. While Hickson isn’t the player that JT has become, his athleticism and abilities are an asset if the Kings utilize him properly. Hickson’s TS% went up despite the limited shot attempts from 41.5% to 43.2%. That’s movement in the right direction at least. Let’s hope it continues.

* I love the #Chuckwagon. What I love the most? Just that he’s a professional who goes out there and does what he can. No more no less. Chuck’s season TS% went from a paltry 42.2% to a paltry 42.6%.

* Isaiah Thomas shot 2-5 (missing a few makeable shots) from the field tonight (including a nice Stop n Pop Terrell Brandon moment), but the block on Wes Matthews was a thing of beauty. For some reason, and it wasn’t just Thomas who made great plays against the Blazers in transition tonight, the Blazers struggled in transition. I’m wondering if that was because Salmons, Thornton and Thomas made great plays or if that’s something routine that is a consistent bugaboo for Portland. (I’m thinking a bit of both.) Either way, it was nice to see the Kings get productive, if not statistically, minutes from Thomas as more consistency from the young man was needed.

* Jimmer didn’t play? So what? There is always next game.

* The Kings margin of winning went down from negative 11.3 to negative 10.6. Progress.

* Even though the Kings were being outrebounded for a lot of the game, the game ended up even in that department.

I’ll repeat myself again: The 2nd half defense was exceptional, and this Kings team has the opportunity if the commitment, as it was for long stretches of the 2nd half tonight, remains. It’s really that simple at the end of the day when you strip all the horseshit away and are left with the barebones reality of what really went on.

At one point Portland was up 13 in this game, and there were times I wondered if the Kings would lay down as they so often had this season. Instead, the Kings cranked the pressure up a bit and Portland only had so much of an answer. It was nice to see that the Kings can A) run a competent NBA style offense and B) play excellent NBA defense. Tonight is proof why young teams are so difficult at times: You just don’t know what you will get. Will this mean more maturity from this group next game? Or an uneven performance lending towards the idea that this team doesn’t have what it takes to win games at the NBA level.

We shall see. Interesting times ahead. Remember, the Kings have had a brutal road schedule, and it will continue until the All-Star break full tilt and then some. After playing the Warriors on Saturday, the Kings head to New Orleans next Monday and to Minnesota next Tuesday. Then back to Sacramento for the Thursday blackout game against Oklahoma City on TNT and a Saturday game against the Phoenix Suns. Then the game 6 game trip that takes the Kings to Chicago, New York (the 2nd of a b2b), Detroit, Cleveland, Miami & Washington (the 2nd of a b2b).

As bad as this schedule is, at some point it evens out which is exactly what will happen after the All-Star game. The Kings play 22 of their road games before the AS break; 22 of their home games after the AS break. This team very well could be on a much better trajectory headed into the sweet spot of their schedule. Nothing in the NBA is guaranteed, and March is no exception. The reality is that in this league you have up’s & downs and little practice time in a shortened season. Except, Smart has made this team practice to help fix the many things ailing this team with all the limited opportunities he has had to do so. The Kings are 5-4 at home, and that isn’t as bad as the losses look. Every team has a few missed opportunities they wish they could capitalize on. The Kings are also 2-10 on the road with some of the worst losses I can remember a Kings team having. Despite all the terrible shooting slash effort blowouts, it does after all sometimes make players realize that those games are only 1 game. Some maturity and growth out of Tyreke Evans/DeMarcus Cousins is what needed to happen, and up to a point in some cases for each we have seen a bit of maturity from both guys.

But a lot more maturity is needed from both Evans and Cousins to get the Kings to a 500 team and eventually if the Kings aspire to be a better than 500 team beyond just the minimum amounts of maturity. Hopefully wins like tonight make both realize that at some point. Until then, it’s just nice to see Salmons/Thompson/Hayes/Thomas have an impact on this team, and it was nice to see both Evans/Cousins make plays that did help the Kings win. Marcus Thornton doing what he does (for better or worse) was a nice respite.

For me, the record was not as bothersome as the lack of effort and attention to obvious details that you know from Jr High on. Some of the lapses are still there, but not nearly as frequent as they were even a week ago. There is at least, if nothing else, semblance of a real NBA team and ability on this badly underachieving team. Was tonight a real accomplishment? Not really. The Blazers didn’t take advantage of some of the gifts the Kings gave them, and the Kings did just enough to pull out a victory.

Okay that’s pretty much it. On the flip side I go. Go Kings?

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