By: Jim Eichenhofer, Hornets.com, @Jim_Eichenhofer
February 24, 2013
The Sacramento Kings are viewed around the NBA as a very youthful team, with several players whose best days should be ahead of them. Statistically and in actuality, the New Orleans Hornets are even younger than the Kings.
Two of the NBA’s least experienced teams match up Sunday evening in the Crescent City, with the Hornets hosting the Kings for the second time in 2012-13. New Orleans hold a 1-0 season series advantage over Sacramento, having posted a 114-105 victory in a Martin Luther King Day matinee. The clubs will only meet once in California’s capital city this season, on April 10.
In the Jan. 21 MLK Day matchup, Ryan Anderson produced one of his best games of the season, dropping in 27 points against the Kings, including seven three-pointers. Greivis Vasquez added 19 points and 2-for-4 three-point shooting, part of a stellar 12-for-25 performance by New Orleans from beyond the arc.
While Sacramento has one player who was born in the 1990s (DeMarcus Cousins), five New Orleans roster members hold the same distinction. No. 1 overall draft pick Anthony Davis won’t turn 20 until March 11; Austin Rivers’ 21st birthday is Aug. 1. Al-Farouq Aminu, Xavier Henry and Darius Miller are also perhaps not old enough to remember much of the Clinton Administration.
Through the first 50-plus games of the regular season, New Orleans and Sacramento experienced many of the growing pains that come with having so many green players. The clubs are locked in a battle with Phoenix to avoid the basement of the Western Conference, but New Orleans has been much more effective since a 6-23 start.
Intriguing matchup: Bench vs. bench
Despite their overall record, the Kings bring Marcus Thornton off the bench, making their second unit a viable threat. In the Jan. 21 meeting, New Orleans outplayed Sacramento’s reserves to the tune of a 45-28 scoring margin, with Anderson and Jason Smith combining for 35 of those Hornets points. NOLA has recently received improved play from backups such as Brian Roberts and Austin Rivers; fellow guard Roger Mason has been outstanding from the perimeter in his stints on the floor.
Coincidentally, the last time Sacramento visited New Orleans on Jan. 21, news broke that morning that an agreement had been reached for the Kings to move to Seattle in time for next season. However, the franchise’s transfer of ownership is contingent upon league approval, which can’t happen until an April meeting. In the meantime, the city of Sacramento and current mayor Kevin Johnson (a former NBA player) are trying to put together a package and ownership group that will allow the Kings to remain in the place they’ve called home since 1985. On the court, the Kings are headed to their seventh consecutive non-playoff season. One day before Thursday’s trade deadline, Sacramento traded the fifth pick of the 2012 NBA Draft, forward Thomas Robinson, to Houston. In exchange, the Kings picked up forward Patrick Patterson, center Cole Aldrich and guard Toney Douglas.
The mercurial DeMarcus Cousins is a talented center whose long-term success in the NBA will likely be contingent upon how much he matures on and off the floor. The 22-year-old Kentucky product has proven to be a unique talent between the lines, as the Hornets saw first-hand when Cousins erupted for 29 points and 13 rebounds in the Jan. 21 game here. Cousins collected six offensive boards and was 11-for-17 from the field.
On the rise
The 60th and final pick of the 2011 NBA Draft, second-year point guard Isaiah Thomas is Sacramento’s third-leading scorer, a 5-foot-9 catalyst for the team’s offensive attack. Thomas was Anthony Davis’ teammate during the Rising Stars Challenge that took place on Feb. 15 during NBA All-Star weekend. The University of Washington product poured in 20 points at New Orleans on Jan. 21.
The NBA’s Rookie of the Year in 2009-10, swingman Tyreke Evans has battled injuries this season, but when he’s at full strength, the Memphis product is a dynamic scorer. Although Evans’ average in points per game has dropped each of his pro seasons, he’s shooting a career-best percentage from the field, partly as a result of an incremental improvement in his jumper, a past weakness.
On the sideline
Baton Rouge native Keith Smart has one very fond memory of New Orleans from his playing days. As a shooting guard for Indiana University, Smart made the game-winning basket of the 1987 NCAA title game in the Superdome. Smart is in his first full season at the helm for Sacramento, after taking over from Paul Westphal just seven games into the 2011-12 campaign.
Did you know?
Due to their common roots in Baton Rouge, Smart has known Marcus Thornton since the shooting guard was a youngster. Coincidentally, Thornton was born in June 1987, two months after Smart’s game-winning shot lifted Indiana to the national title, defeating Syracuse by one point.
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