SACRAMENTO -- The Kings dispelled any hint, notion or rumor of complacency on Wednesday night, jumping the visiting Nuggets in a 131–109 win completing the home-and-home set after winning in the Mile High City on Monday night.
Coach Michael Malone is keeping Sacramento grounded, however.
“I told them this morning that we still haven’t done anything, even if we’re 3-1," Malone said. "I’m going to keep telling them that. To be 4-1 after five games is great, but we have a very demanding and difficult road trip coming up, starting with Phoenix.
"We still have a lot of work to do. We can get better in a lot of areas.”
DeMarcus Cousins set the tone early, scoring 16 of his 30 points in the first quarter as Sacramento ascended to a 40-19 lead after 12 minutes.
Rudy Gay scored 29 points, making Wednesday the first night of the season that the Kings' top two players put up big numbers.
While Malone acknowledged Cousins and Gay are "playing at a very high level right now,” there’s more to the Kings offense that the coach likes.
“What I’m really happy about is that we had 21 assists and only 13 turnovers," Malone said. "Thirteen turnovers is our target number. If we can stay at that number or below, we’ll be amongst the leaders in fewest turnovers per game.
"It’s good to see Carl Landry getting his rhythm back and to see what he’s giving us in the post off of the bench. When you have a team that gets to the foul line 50 times, then you know we’re playing in attack mode and being very aggressive.”
Cousins was asked about he and Gay getting going offensively on the same night but he deferred to defense as the catalyst.
“With us playing defense the way we are – communicating, playing together, being on one stream – I think it’s helping on the offensive end as well.”
Riding an unexpected four-game winning streak, Sacramento (4-1) now embarks on a four-game road trip beginning Friday night vs. Phoenix (3-2) and former Kings point guard Isaiah Thomas.
DeMarcus Cousins and Rudy Gay combined for 59 points.
Carl Landry is looking more like himself after an injury-riddled season, scoring 18 points in just over 16 minutes.
In addition to Cousins, Gay and Landry, three additional Kings – Darren Collison, Ben McLemore and Omri Casspi -- were in double figures.
In addition to his 10 points, Collison dished eight assists and did not commit any turnovers, improving his assist-to-turnover ratio to 4.25.
Perhaps most importantly, Sacramento came ready to play after their surprising back-to-back road wins.
The Kings allowed 35 and 37 points in the second and fourth quarters, respectively. Malone wasn’t pleased with this, nor was Cousins.
“Second quarter we gave up 35 and in the fourth we gave up 37," Cousins acknowledged. "We can improve on that a lot. We can’t have breakdowns regardless if we’re up 30 or we’re up two.
"Can’t have those type of defensive breakdowns and we can’t relax the way we did tonight. That game could’ve easily changed but we stayed poised through it and we pulled out a win. But those are some areas we can improve on.”
The Kings proved that they could handle modest success and came out ready to play as demonstrated by a strong first quarter.
Furthermore, the Kings have demonstrated early that they’re capable of improving upon back-to-back 28 win seasons.
However, the next step will be handling the inevitable adversity of a long NBA season, which Sacramento may encounter on this road trip to Phoenix, Oklahoma City, Dallas and Memphis.
Malone elaborated on the start and moving forward:
“I think we have positive leadership, whether it’s DeMarcus Cousins, Rudy Gay, Darren Collison, or Reggie Evans. I sense that we have a great group of guys that have really bonded.
"Maybe that shows that our trip to China was worth the thousands of miles, because this team has come together. It’s easy to come together when you’re winning, but how are we going to react when we lose?
"That’s going to come at some point in the NBA. I just think our guys are really adjusting to each other, they’re communicating with each other, and they’re holding each other down. It’s great to see.”