April 11, 2012

The New Orleans Hornets have lost three times to the Sacramento Kings in 2011-12, with the two most recent defeats ranking among the most excruciating of the season from a Hornets perspective. In a Wednesday matchup of two Western Conference clubs headed to the NBA draft lottery next month, the hosts will try to produce a favorable outcome against the Kings for the first time since March of 2011.

Sacramento opened the head-to-head series with New Orleans with a decisive 96-80 home victory on New Years Day. On Feb. 6 in the Crescent City, the Hornets led 78-69 entering the fourth quarter, but were outscored by a 31-14 margin in the final period, en route to a 100-92 loss.

A little over a month later, the Hornets arguably suffered an even more frustrating defeat to the Kings. On March 7 in California, New Orleans were leading by a point with less than 10 seconds remaining, but Trevor Arizas inbound pass to Marco Belinelli near the sideline was gathered in by Sacramento rookie Isaiah Thomas, who dished a pass to John Salmons for a go-ahead layup with 6 seconds remaining. The Kings held on for a 99-98 victory. The Hornets sustained a bitter loss despite shooting an outstanding 54.5 percent from the field. Jarrett Jack led New Orleans with 25 points, while Ariza contributed 20.

Intriguing matchup: Center, Chris Kaman vs. DeMarcus Cousins
The Kings have managed to defeat the Hornets three times this season, despite Cousins missing two of the games. When he did play, the Kentucky product racked up 28 points and 19 rebounds, one of the best games of his NBA career. Kaman and Jason Smith will try to prevent Cousins from continuing his recent stretch of outstanding performances in the paint.


As the youngest team in the NBA, the Kings are building for the future around a group of recent lottery picks and promising talent. The teams foundation consists of a former Rookie of the Year, guard Tyreke Evans, blossoming second-year big man DeMarcus Cousins and third-year guard Marcus Thornton. None of those players have celebrated their 25th birthday yet, with Evans (22) and Cousins (21) still college-aged. In the meantime, Sacramento is experiencing some of the growing pains that come from having such a youthful roster. The Kings are headed for a sixth straight non-playoff season, though they are on pace to register their best winning percentage since 2007-08. The big news off the court recently in Sacramento was that a tentative agreement has been reached to build the team a new arena, which would keep the Kings in Californias capital city on a long-term basis.

What's new
With a roster that has undergone several transformations over the past few years, Sacramento decided not to make any major moves at the March 15 trade deadline. However, one new face is third-year guard/forward Terrance Williams, who was signed as a free agent last month. The versatile 6-foot-6, 220-pounder has gotten an optimum chance to contribute, playing over 30 minutes in recent games against Minnesota and Phoenix. During his 2009-10 rookie season with New Jersey, the Louisville product notched one of the best games of his career vs. New Orleans, posting 14 points and 14 assists.

Kings star
In recent weeks, Cousins has taken over the role of Kings go-to guy from Evans and Thornton, with an incredible stretch of games. From March 22-30, the 6-foot-11, 270-pounder posted five consecutive games of at least 20 points and 10 rebounds, highlighted by 38 and 14 at Houston. Even more recently, the University of Kentucky product scored a career-high 41 points, to go with 12 rebounds, vs. Phoenix on April 3. The 21-year-old has battled maturity issues during his brief pro career, including missing the Jan. 1 game vs. New Orleans due to a team-mandated suspension, but has proven to be unstoppable lately in the paint.

King on the rise
In Sacramentos previous visit to New Orleans, rookie point guard Isaiah Thomas sparked a big second-half comeback, finishing with 17 points, including three three-pointers. Just six games later, the Kings decided to move Thomas into the starting lineup for the first time and have been extremely pleased with the results. The 5-foot-9, 185-pounder was named Rookie of the Month in the Western Conference in both February and March, appearing to make himself the Kings point guard of the future. Not bad for a guy who was chosen with the 60th and final pick of the 2011 NBA Draft.

On the sideline
Trips to New Orleans bring back fond memories for Sacramento head coach Keith Smart, who sank the game-winning basket of the 1987 NCAA championship game in the Superdome, giving Indiana a one-point victory over Syracuse. Smart, who is also a Baton Rouge native, had a brief playing career in the NBA and has since been a head coach for Cleveland, Golden State and Sacramento. In all three stops, Smarts teams have been extremely young and not quite ready to compete for a playoff spot. He was the Warriors bench boss last season, but was replaced by Mark Jackson after the franchise underwent an ownership change.

Did you know?
With numerous early-first round draft picks in recent years, the Kings appear to have embraced a philosophy of leaning toward players from highly-respected, prominent college programs. Of the 13 current Kings who attended college, nine represent BCS conference schools. Thornton (LSU), Cousins (Kentucky) and Chuck Hayes (Kentucky) all played in the SEC, while Williams (Louisville), Francisco Garcia (Louisville) and Donte Greene (Syracuse) hail from Big East institutions.

Players the Kings want shooting free throws in a close game... If the Kings need a three-pointer, three of their best options are...
Name Career FT percentage (through April 9)
Made 34 of his first 38 attempts in NBA.
Rookie is averaging over 15 points per game as a starter.
Missed games recently with bruised left calf.
Name Career three-point percentage (through April 9)
Is 5-for-8 (62.5 percent) vs. Hornets this season.
Rookies minutes have been sporadic in recent weeks.
Connected on 37.4 percent as Hornets rookie in 2009-10.

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