February 6, 2012
It’s only been five weeks since the last time the New Orleans Hornets and Sacramento Kings played a game against each other, but what a difference that relatively brief timeframe has made for both teams. Entering a New Year’s Day game, the Hornets’ record stood at 2-1 overall, the last time they were above .500 this season. The Kings’ head coach was still Paul Westphal, who was replaced just four days later by Keith Smart. Sacramento pulled away in the second half vs. New Orleans en route to a 96-80 victory, which marked the final win for Westphal as the leader of the Kings.
Both Western Conference squads are well out of the postseason picture entering Monday’s matchup, the second of their four head-to-head meetings in 2011-12. New Orleans will return to Sacramento on March 7, part of the Hornets’ four-game road trip that will help make way for the SEC men’s basketball tournament. The final encounter between the Hornets and Kings is scheduled to take place on April 11 in the Crescent City, one of NOLA’s final home games of 2011-12.
If the Hornets are to even their season series against the Kings on Monday, they’ll need to be much more efficient offensively than in the Jan. 1 defeat. New Orleans shot just 40.4 percent from the field at Sacramento, while turning the ball over 19 times. Each member of the Kings’ backcourt combination of Tyreke Evans (27 points) and Marcus Thornton (25 points) went exactly 9-for-18 from the field, helping the hosts erase a 40-38 halftime deficit.
Intriguing matchup: Center, Emeka Okafor vs. DeMarcus Cousins
Cousins missed the Jan. 1 game vs. New Orleans while serving a Kings-mandated suspension for conduct detrimental to his team. The Hornets took advantage of the second-year pro’s absence by posting a 60-41 rebounding advantage. Okafor also capitalized with a solid 13-point, 12-rebound game, including grabbing five offensive boards. With Cousins back in action, the task of slowing down the talented University of Kentucky product will likely fall on Okafor, as well as backup bigs Jason Smith and Gustavo Ayon.
HORNETS.COM SCOUTING REPORT: SACRAMENTO KINGS
The Kings have missed the Western Conference playoffs in each of the past five full seasons, finishing in last place in the Pacific Division four times during that span. The team’s long-term rebuilding plan received a nice boost in 2009, when Sacramento selected guard Tyreke Evans, who won Rookie of the Year. However, the Kings have made little progress in the standings since Evans’ excellent debut two seasons ago. They went 24-58 last season and opened the current campaign with 14 losses in their first 20 games, roughly the same winning percentage of the past two years. Just seven games into this season, the Kings were 2-5 and replaced head coach Paul Westphal with Keith Smart, Golden State’s head coach in 2010-11. Through the first 13 games with Smart in charge, they were 4-9, highlighted by quality victories over Indiana and San Antonio. This visit to New Orleans is part of a quick two-game road trip that concludes Tuesday at Minnesota.
Whether due to his unusual first name or his long-range shooting exploits as a star player for Brigham Young University, rookie guard Jimmer Fredette became a trending topic last winter in his final collegiate season. Sacramento acquired the 6-foot-2 guard in the lottery portion of the 2011 NBA Draft and has given him significant minutes. Through January, Fredette was the Kings’ fourth-leading scorer. Sacramento also added second-round pick Isaiah Thomas, who’s played sporadic minutes off the bench. In free agency, the Kings picked up blue-collar defender Chuck Hayes, who has faced the Hornets frequently in recent years as a member of the Houston Rockets. Small forward Travis Outlaw was signed after New Jersey exercised the amnesty clause on Outlaw. The ninth-year pro worked extensively on his individual development with Monty Williams when both were with the Portland Trail Blazers.
Evans burst onto the NBA scene after playing just one season at the University of Memphis under the tutelage of point-guard guru John Calipari. Evans is one of the league’s most effective drivers to the basket, using his quick first step, athleticism and 6-foot-6 frame to blow past defenders. His perimeter shot has improved but remains a weakness, making it imperative for opponents to goad him into launching as many jumpers as possible. Through late January, Evans was shooting just 24.4 percent from three-point range.
King on the rise
In the weeks leading up to the 2010 NBA Draft, many analysts believed DeMarcus Cousins might have been the most talented player available. However, questions about the then-19-year-old’s maturity partly contributed to him falling to the fifth overall pick. In his second pro season, Cousins still spends too much time griping to officials during games and has been instructed by coaches to reduce the number of technical fouls called against him. When he’s focused and playing well, the 6-foot-10, 270-pounder can be a true force in the paint. Through 20 games this season, he was averaging a double-double at 14.7 points and 10.9 rebounds.
On the sideline
This is Smart’s third different stint as an NBA head coach, as well as the second time he’s taken over a team midway through a season. Smart went 9-31 over the final 40 games of the 2002-03 campaign with Cleveland, then was 36-46 last season with Golden State. As a player, Smart appeared in two career NBA games with San Antonio, but is much more well-known for draining the game-winning shot of the 1987 NCAA championship game. Smart’s historic shot took place in the Louisiana Superdome and lifted Indiana to a dramatic victory over Syracuse.
Did you know?
With an average age on opening day of 24 years, 347 days, Sacramento entered 2011-12 as the NBA’s youngest team. Their current roster includes three rookies and two second-year pros. Part of the youthful nature of the roster is due to all of the Kings’ recent lottery picks. In the past three years, Evans, Cousins and Fredette were all picked in that portion of the draft.
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