SACRAMENTO -- The Rajon Rondo show was on full display Tuesday night in Sacramento. The veteran guard came into the night leading the league in assists at 10.9 per game. With his team in desperate need of a win, the All-Star guard turned up the pace and put on a show.
“The one thing about Rondo is you always have to have your hands up,” Rudy Gay said. “Because if you don’t, he’ll hit you in the head with the ball.”
Early in the third quarter, Rondo broke out of the pack with the ball, making a dazzling behind the back move before slinging the ball to a sprinting Rudy Gay for the dunk. Within seconds, the video was all over the internet, showing once again that Rondo is far from done as a basketball aficionado.
“He’s like a magician out there,” Rudy Gay said. “He does a lot of crazy things. Of course, I was one of the people who wanted him here. I’m happy he’s here. I’m happy he's contributing.”
It was just one of 13 assists that Rondo picked up during the Kings 114-106 victory over the Utah Jazz Tuesday night.
“He’s pretty amazing,” Omri Casspi said. “I used to dribble the ball up the court every once in a while back in my younger days, now, I bring down the ball and he’s the first one I look at.”
Casspi looks for Rondo to push the tempo and bring the ball up the floor. But the unselfish play of Rondo is contagious. He’s taken the reigns of a team that finished 26th in the league in assists per game last season and turned them into something in his image.
The Kings currently rank fourth in the league in assists per game at 24 a night. They trail only the Warriors, Hawks and Spurs - all three established playoff teams, not teams with 10 new players on the roster.
“He just makes everyone better,” Casspi added. “He’s really fun to play with. He’s our leader on and off the court. He’s the only player in the NBA that can do that. (I’m) happy to play alongside him.”
Sacramento dished out 29 assists on Tuesday, which is six short of their season-high that they established Saturday night in Houston. When they move the ball effectively, the game gets decidedly easier for everyone on the court.
As long as the game is going according to plan, George Karl likes to tighten his rotation. If Willie Cauley-Stein was available, you probably would have seen nine players enter the game for Sacramento. But without their rookie stopper, Karl used just three men off his bench.
It wasn’t a perfect win, but the eight players that saw time on the floor all contributed in one way or another.
Cousins got back closer to form, finishing with 23 points, 12 rebounds and six assists. The Kings star big man shot 8-for-14 from the field, hit one of his three long range attempts and finished 6-for-10 from the line.
Rudy Gay ran the floor and hit his open shots. The veteran forward tied Cousins with 23 points on the night and shot an impressive 10-for-13 from the field. Casspi added 19 points and 10 rebounds, Rondo chipped in 17 points and 13 assists and McLemore and Belinelli scored 10 each.
This was a team effort. Six players of the eight players scored in double-figures. Darren Collison and Kosta Koufos each finished with six points, but still made an impact.
After a devastating loss in Oklahoma City on Sunday, the Kings were nothing short of desperate for a win. You would expect that a team sitting at 7-15 would do everything in their power to finish off an opponent, but that’s not the Kings style.
Midway through the third, it looked like the home team was going to cruise to victory. They were up 14 and the offense was humming along. And then it all stopped. The ball movement stopped. The decision making process stopped. With so much riding on a game, the Kings slipped right back into the bad habits that have plagued them all season.
Utah is no joke. They came into the night 9-9 and they give you 48 minutes of fight every night. In the blink of an eye, the Jazz used a 15-3 run to all but erased the Kings advantage. A 25-foot 3-pointer from Marco Belinelli snapped the Utah streak and seemed to give Sacramento the confidence they needed to gut out a win.
At some point, the Kings are going to have to find a way to put a team away, either at home or on the road. They picked up a nice win against the Jazz, but I’m not sure we even want to venture where this team would be if Utah squeaked out a win.
Despite putting up huge numbers, Cousins still doesn’t look completely like himself. An early season Achilles strain cost Cousins four games and his latest injury, a lower back strain, sent him to the sidelines for another three. Add in a one game suspension and the Kings’ best player has missed a total of eight of their first 23 games.
“I think he has got a back and an ankle that are sore,” Karl said. “I tell him all the time, you’re probably at a stage in your career and maybe life like men like me. If I woke up without pain, I’d be dead.”
Karl’s point is well taken and he wasn’t calling out his star center. It’s a reality to the situation. Cousins has had two very difficult injuries to deal with, especially for a man of his size. But due to the nature of his profession, he is going to have to play in pain many nights. Welcome to the downside of being 6-foot-11, 270 pounds.
“It’s just the process of being a big guy in this league, and the way he plays and the way he bangs,” Karl said. “I think we just have to be careful how we rest him, and how we rehab him to 100 percent health.”
Early in his career, Cousins was a horse. He very seldom missed a game, but the injuries are accumulating. Maybe the answer is that the Kings share the offensive load for a while, so Cousins can find his try to recover from his string of ailments.
“Any NBA player is going to play 2,500 minutes, it’s not easy,” Karl said. “It’s physically damaging and mentally fatiguing scenario. I think when you have the responsibly to deliver 25 (points) and 12 (rebounds) every night, people don’t understand how hard that is.”
Cousins would love to push that number closer to 28 points and 13 rebounds per contest, but for now, he needs to bide his time and heal, like a normal person.