Isaiah DeMarcus

Kings players want Isaiah Thomas to start; don’t know what they’re running on offense

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If you’ve caught yourself watching a Sacramento Kings game lately and thought to yourself, ‘this can’t get any worse’ only to see it get much, much worse – you’re not the only one.

As it turns out, the Kings players themselves are having a real hard time understanding the train wreck they’re a part of on the court every night.

“They know that they’re playing terrible basketball right now,” said one source close to the players. “But they’ve thrown their hands up trying to figure out Keith Smart.”

Smart is in his fourth year as a head coach in the NBA. He had an interim stint with the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2002-03, and then took a job as an assistant for Don Nelson in Golden State until he was elevated to head coach after Nellie’s retirement prior to the 2010-11 season. He took a roster primed for improvement to a 36-46 record, but the Warriors’ new ownership opted not to keep him.

The reason team insiders overwhelmingly pointed to for his departure was his handling of franchise player Stephen Curry, who Smart benched nightly for out-of-the-NBA guard Acie Law.

Smart could never clearly articulate to the press what Curry wasn’t doing to please him, and while Curry could have played more defense or taken better shots he was twice the player that Law was. Curry’s benching cost the team games and it cost Smart respect in the locker room and within the organization.

The same thing is happening in Sacramento all over again, but this time Smart has the backing of general manager Geoff Petrie – who appears to be more interested in promoting his free agent acquisitions and draft picks than he is in playing the right guys.

Namely, sources close to key Kings players have told ProBasketballTalk that they are frustrated with the fact that point guard Isaiah Thomas isn’t starting and acting as the team’s floor general. Thomas finished seventh in last season’s Rookie of the Year voting, but arguably could have finished as high as second place when one compares his numbers to that of Ricky Rubio, who held that spot.

Thomas boasted shooting lines of 47.7/40.6/84.1 while averaging 14.8 points, 3.1 rebounds, 5.4 assists, and 2.0 turnovers in 31.6 minutes per game in 37 starts, which compare favorably to Rubio’s shooting lines of 35.7/34.0/80.3 with averages of 10.6 points, 4.2 rebounds, 8.2 assists, and 3.2 turnovers in 34.2 minutes per game in 41 starts.

Independent of that comparison, Thomas played well against the league’s best guards, holding Chris Paul, Tony Parker, Goran Dragic, and Rajon Rondo to 26-of-76 (34.2%) combined shooting for a stretch while being considered by scouts to be an above average defender at his position. Despite standing 5’ 9” tall without shoes, his strength and leaping ability made him a surprising plus-defender in the post.

Being the team’s best player at times down the stretch of last season, Thomas was able to win the starting point guard position, but the Stephen Curry treatment continued. On a team that has lacked ball movement in recent years, one would think that a playmaking point guard with charisma on and off the court would be a high priority. But the window to develop Thomas last season was lost, and separate from the Kings’ off the court struggles, the window to create a cohesive team approach is rapidly closing this season and Kings players are frustrated with it.

Perhaps the team didn’t have faith that Jimmer Fredette could turn into a competent NBA player, or maybe it was Petrie’s well-documented quest to obtain Aaron Brooks, but the Kings took a big step toward destroying their continuity at the position when they signed Brooks over the summer. He was a cheap acquisition after playing and talking his way out of Houston and Phoenix, and with Fredette looking like he couldn’t dribble the ball up the court most Kings analysts were okay with adding depth at the position.

Unfortunately, nobody in Sacramento fully understood Smart’s history with point guards, nor did they fully appreciate the impact Thomas could have to rally the team and rally the city toward a product they could be proud of. Immediately Thomas’ role was questioned by team-friendly media sources, despite the fact that Brooks had lost backup duties to Zabian Dowdell in Phoenix before spending a season in China.

Meanwhile, Thomas spent an offseason organizing team workouts, building camaraderie, and eventually he and his teammates would be tasked with learning a tough new Triangle offense.

The Kings started off slow and the resulting confusion and losses gave Smart and Petrie the window they needed to get Brooks in a starting role, which was aided in part by Thomas pressing just like Curry did in Golden State, albeit in a much more dysfunctional situation.

That offense has since been scrapped according to player sources, and right now “they don’t know what they’re running.” The Kings turned to the old failed strategy of Tyreke Evans left and Tyreke right, with random excursions to the hoop by DeMarcus Cousins, high-post offense initiated by Chuck Hayes, and the occasional Jason Thompson post-up.

When on the court, Thomas has been sent to the corner to watch the carnage unfold, because like last season the team refuses to run a pick-and-roll based offense featuring him as the primary or even secondary decision-maker with the ball.

With Kings players in an utter state of confusion nightly, they have reverted to one-on-one ball and rank dead last in assists per game (18.2) and that number has dipped in the last three games to 15.3. This is a far cry from the days of when Thomas was piling up between 5-10 assists per game in 17-of-23 outings to finish last season despite being a second, third or fourth option handling the ball.

Since moving Brooks into the starting lineup, Smart and Petrie have also put a premium on playing their bad contracts, giving heavy minutes to Francisco Garcia, John Salmons, and Travis Outlaw while Thomas and an improving Fredette ride the pine. It’s crazy, because the only time the team looks coherent on the court is when the Mighty Mite lineup of Thomas and Fredette is on the court – even if Fredette can’t cover a rocking chair and shoots nearly every time he gets the rock.

The players already know, and Cousins even took to wearing an IT jersey for the press the other day, but even casual observers can see that the Kings need to get their high basketball IQ guys on the court. While Brooks’ scoring ability has never been in dispute, he knows only one way to impact a game, and too many times that’s with poorly conceived jump shots and flailing drives to the hoop. More importantly he can’t make it through screens and is responsible for more points on defense than he scores. Evans is the same type of player and is a physical freak, but his inconsistent jumper and bad shot selection in a standstill offense negate any gains he could possibly provide. Marcus Thornton has been dealing with very real off the court issues due to his mother’s health, but his deployment within the non-existent offensive structure has bordered on laughable for one of the league’s best big-time shot-makers. Cousins still takes bad shots, but it’s hard to fault any of these guys when there is no plan, their best playmaker has been sidelined, and the team is making playing time decisions from the Smart and Petrie handbook.

Then again, the Maloofs might just be making Major League 4: The Search for More Money, which makes any conversation about basketball a moot point.

Paul George ejected for arguing calls, Pacers go on to lose to Heat

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Paul George already had one technical in the game (from a double technical situation), when he thought he was fouled and should have gotten a call fairly early in the third quarter of a tight Pacers game against the Heat.

George apparently wouldn’t let up barking at the referees, maybe said some magical words, but whatever happened the officials hit him with a second technical. He was tossed. You can see the reaction above.

The Pacers hung close in the game until the Heat went on a 21-4 run to open the fourth and that was the ballgame. If you’re the undisputed leader of your team — as George is — you just can’t get tossed for things like this.

Warriors first team to clinch playoff slot with win over Nets

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OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) — Stephen Curry scored 27 points on a night Kevin Durant missed his first game of the season with a hand injury, and the Golden State Warriors beat the Brooklyn Nets 112-95 on Saturday to clinch a playoff berth.

Klay Thompson added 24 points. Curry converted a four-point play just before halftime to put his team up 62-51 at the break. The two-time reigning MVP had five 3-pointers and five assists.

This is just a first step for these star-studded, NBA-best Warriors (49-9): They want the No. 1 seed in the West. Oh, and a championship.

Durant sat out with a bruised left hand. He injured his pinkie in the first quarter of a 123-113 win over the Los Angeles Clippers on Thursday night, and X-rays were negative. He practiced Friday with his left hand heavily taped and still had some discomfort Saturday.

Rondae Hollis-Jefferson scored 16 points in the Nets’ 16th straight defeat.

Nate Robinson goes through players’ legs to get out of double team in D-League

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Nate Robinson is trying to make an NBA comeback by starting in the D-League, playing for the Delaware 87ers, the affiliate of the Sixers.

They were going up against the Raptors’ affiliate when Robinson was trapped on the wing by a double-team — so he literally went between the legs of 7’3″ Walter Tavares and drove out of it. He got into the lane and was fouled.

If a pass between the legs is a nutmeg, what exactly is that?

This is my new favorite highlight of the year.

Carmelo Anthony’s jumper with 0.3 seconds left gives Knicks 110-109 win over 76ers

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NEW YORK (AP) — Carmelo Anthony made a jumper with 0.3 seconds left to give the New York Knicks a 110-109 victory over the Philadelphia 76ers on Saturday night.

The Knicks blew a 17-point lead and fell behind by one when Jahlil Okafor scored with 9 seconds remaining. But Anthony dribbled left after a timeout, pulling up over Robert Covington to cap his 37-point performance.

The Knicks then intercepted the 76ers’ inbounds pass to hold on and snap their two-game losing streak.

Derrick Rose added 18 points and Justin Holiday had 14 for the Knicks, who won for just the third time in 11 games. They played without starters Kristaps Porzingis (sprained right ankle) and Joakim Noah (sore left hamstring).

Okafor had a season-high 28 points and grabbed 10 rebounds as the 76ers nearly pulled out the victory after beating Washington on Friday. Dario Saric had 19 points and 15 rebounds, and Covington finished with 20 points and 10 boards.

The Knicks avoided falling behind the 76ers into 13th place in the Eastern Conference, but they seem to realize it might be too late to get ahead of the teams they need to. They came in five games behind Detroit for the eighth and final playoff spot, and coach Jeff Hornacek before the game talked of players’ development as a goal instead of trying to make a playoff push.

Before the game, Philadelphia coach Brett Brown said his experience was that teams playing on the second night of a back-to-back usually started quickly before getting fatigued. But it was the Knicks was started fast thanks to Anthony, who was 7 for 10 for 17 points as New York led 31-25.

The Knicks led by 10 at halftime and Rose scored 10 in the third to keep Philadelphia from cutting into it. The Sixers were still down double digits well into the fourth quarter before Okafor and T.J. McConnell led them in what became a frantic finish.

TIP-INS

76ers: Philadelphia had won four of its previous five games. … The Sixers have dropped six straight at Madison Square Garden.

Knicks: Hornacek said Porzingis was considered day-to-day, with a possibility of returning in their next game Monday. But he said Noah would be out longer after having a setback in his recovery during the break. … Noah celebrated his 32nd birthday.

TWEETS

Knicks President of Basketball Operations Phil Jackson tweeted for just the fourth time this season on Saturday, wishing Tex Winter a happy 95th birthday. Winter was his former assistant coach and is considered the pioneer of the triangle offense. Jackson ended the tweet with a triangle emoji.

SPEAKING OF THE TRIANGLE

The Knicks have started running it more, according to Hornacek. He says it not only benefits the younger players on offense but also helps the Knicks be in better position to get back on defense. The Knicks ran the offense that Jackson used to win 11 championships as a coach under Derek Fisher and Kurt Rambis the previous two seasons, but Hornacek had opened up the offense this season to get the Knicks playing quicker.

UP NEXT

76ers: Host Golden State on Monday.

Knicks: Host Toronto on Monday. The Raptors have won the last five meetings.