Programming note: Nuggets-Kings coverage starts Wednesday night at 6:30 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet California with Kings Pregame Live (territorial restrictions apply)
Coming off a huge road win over the Clippers on Sunday, the Kings faced their next challenge on Monday in Denver in the second game of the first back-to-back of the early season.
Sacramento rose to the occasion, winning their third straight game, defeating the Nuggets 110-105.
In contrast to monumental performances from their two star players in Sacramento’s first two wins of the season - teamwork, defense, the bench and the Kings' new point guard were the key factors in Sacramento improving to 3-1.
“We have a lot of guys that believe in each other and we’re really coming together as a team which is great to see,” Kings coach Michael Malone told assembled media following the win.
DeMarcus Cousins, who scored 19 points in the win, echoed his coach’s sentiment telling reporters, “Chemistry is coming along great. Biggest thing is that we’re just playing together man.”
Perhaps the most tangible sign of a culture change in California’s capital city is defense.
“Defense kept us in the game… the biggest… recipe for success early on in the season is our defense,” Darren Collison explained.
On a night where early offense was nonexistent (both teams were six for 23 in the opening quarter) defense was paramount.
Sacramento held Denver to 39 percent shooting from the floor and 21 percent from 3-point range.
Malone credits the defensive improvement to his squad’s attention to detail.
“We’ve had great game plan discipline," Malone said. "We’re going out there and executing the game plan. Trusting each other. Communicating and making it very hard for opponents to score and shoot a high percentage.”
“Honestly I can say it’s the defense. We’re playing some pretty tough defense.”
In addition to the defense, the Kings got a much needed boost - 47 bench points after Sacramento’s second unit was outplayed by the Clippers bench on Sunday.
Carl Landry and Ramon Sessions led the subs, contributing 14 and 13 points respectively, while Omri Casspi chipped in with nine points.
According to Malone, Cousins even delayed reentering the game in the second half to allow the bench players a bit more playing time in a show of support of the Kings’ substitutes.
After prodigious efforts from Gay (40 points vs. Portland) and Cousins (34 points and 17 rebounds vs. the Clippers) Monday in the Mile High City was Collison’s turn to step up.
The former Clipper led the Kings with 21 points, six assists and four rebounds.
Darren Collison led the Kings to victory making four free throws over the last 16.2 seconds while committing just one turnover all game.
Ray McCallum, who had played a total of two minutes this season before Monday, gave the Kings the lead for good on a layup with 3:18 remaining in the fourth quarter.
The Kings received improved frontcourt production as Reggie Evans secured 14 rebounds and Jason Thompson corralled 10 boards.
Sacramento’s vexing 3-point shooting defense was on display at the Pepsi Center - Denver shot 20.8 percent from downtown going 5-for-24.
Sacramento allowed 105 points, giving up over 100 points for the first time this season.
The Kings allowed 28 fourth quarter points, missing their goal of holding opponents to 20 points or fewer in the final stanza.
The Kings turned the ball over 18 times leading to 11 points for Denver.
Lack of production from the two-guard position persists. Ben McLemore scored just five points while Nik Stauskas played less than two minutes and managed to commit three fouls.
Sacramento was two-for-nine from downtown as the Kings' 3-point shooting woes continue.
It’s still very early but the conversation now changes for the Kings.
Is Sacramento capable of a turnaround similar to last season in Charlotte (+22) or Phoenix (+23) in the win column?
Is it realistic to think about DeMarcus Cousins’ goal for this season is “The Playoffs?”
Sacramento’s unexpected early success is reminiscent of Third World’s reggae hit, “Now That We Found Love, What Are We Going To Do With It?”
For Kings fans, it’s a welcome surprise to even consider the possibilities.