SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — After three straight road losses to open the season, the Sacramento Kings are back home, where a sign in their locker room reminds them not to panic: “Relax, it’s only November.”
November might turn out to be a pleasant month after all for the young Kings, who demonstrated no panic Wednesday night in winning their second straight tight game.
DeMarcus Cousins had 21 points and 11 rebounds to help Sacramento hold off the winless Detroit Pistons for a 105-103 victory.
A year ago, in a shortened NBA season, the Kings opened 4-10 and never got themselves headed in a positive direction. That cost coach Paul Westphal his job early in the season and the Kings finished 22-44 overall after Keith Smart took over.
Smart has posted positive reminders throughout the locker room, and the “relax” sign resonates with second-year point guard Isaiah Thomas.
“When we started 0-3 it was a reminder for us to relax,” said Thomas, who was one of seven Kings in double figures with 15 points. “It’s relax if you’re playing, relax if you’re not. It refers to everything we’re doing as a team.”
The Kings did enough right in the fourth quarter to hold off the Pistons, who are in the midst of a six-game road trip and were desperate for a win. Despite being outscored 32-26 in the fourth, the Kings made some big plays and big shots when they were needed.
Smart went with a small three-guard set for part of the fourth quarter and it worked out well. Former BYU star Jimmer Fredette was especially effective, scoring seven of his 12 points in the fourth. He went 4 of 4 on free throws, with the last two giving the Kings a four-point lead.
“Jimmer stays ready all the time, so we try to find the right situation for him,” Smart said. “He came in and made some big plays for us tonight.”
Overlooked somewhat in the fourth quarter was the effectiveness of Cousins, who was playing despite a sore shoulder after a hard flagrant foul in the second by Jason Maxiell. In a battle all game with Pistons center Greg Monroe, Cousins had eight points and four rebounds in the final period.
Cousins was much more pleased with the victory than his second straight double-double.
“It’s a new year, a new team — we’re not concerned about last year,” he said. “It feels good to have some momentum. We’re trying to change things around in Sacramento.”
The Kings took the lead for good early in the second quarter. Strong bench play and the inside game of Cousins proved pivotal in the fourth when the lead was cut to one basket several times.
Monroe had his first triple-double with 21 points, 12 rebounds and a career-high 10 assists for the Pistons, who fell to 0-5. Brandon Knight made five 3-pointers and scored 21 points. Will Bynum had 14 points, and Kyle Singler added 12.
“I’ve been playing against him (Monroe) for a long time,” Cousins said. “Our games are very similar. We’re not athletic or flashy, but we get the job done. He’s an awesome player and doesn’t get the credit he deserves.”
Knight took a pass from Monroe and made a 3-pointer, pulling Detroit to 102-100 with 23.3 seconds left. It was the 10th assist for Monroe, who became the first NBA player this season to record a triple-double.
Jimmer Fredette made two free throws and Cousins hit another to give Sacramento a 105-100 cushion with 10 seconds to go. Rodney Stuckey hit a 3-pointer as time expired.
“They just came up with more plays than we did,” said Singler, who had seven points in the fourth. “We just weren’t able to convert and get stops. They hit a couple of big shots and they were able to win.”
Tyreke Evans and Isaiah Thomas both had 15 points for the Kings (2-3), who had lost five straight to Detroit. Jason Thompson scored 13 points and Fredette had 12.
After Knight’s 3-pointer and a free throw by Singler cut the Kings’ lead to a basket, Marcus Thornton responded with a 3-pointer to put Sacramento ahead 100-95 with 1:134 left.
Leading by three, the Kings scored six straight to build a 90-81 advantage. Cousins had the first three points and Fredette followed with a long 3-pointer.
“I feel a lot more comfortable this year than I did as a rookie, and I think it shows,” Fredette said. “I got to really enjoy the moment tonight.”
Kings rookie forward Thomas Robinson hit Jonas Jerebko with a vicious elbow, knocking him to the floor early in the fourth quarter. Robinson was promptly ejected from the game.
“It was just in the heat of the game,” Jerebko said. “I’m all right and it’s all good. I have nothing against him. I have no problem at all.”
Following a quiet first half, Evans got going in the third quarter, thanks to several twisting drives to the basket in traffic. He had 11 points in the period and the Kings took a 79-71 lead into the fourth.
The early struggles continued for Stuckey, who last season averaged 35.5 points in two games against the Kings. Stuckey opened the season shooting 1 of 23 in the first three games. He had five points against Sacramento, going 2 for 6 in 34 minutes.
Pistons coach Lawrence Frank wasn’t concerned afterward about his team’s offense. Detroit shot 49 percent, made eight 3-pointers and broke 100 points for the first time this season.
“Until we have a defensive mindset, it’s going to be very hard for us to win,” Frank said. “We have to commit. Every guy that steps on the floor has to defend. It’s a simple formula, but hard to do.”
Thomas scored 12 points and Cousins had 10 to help the Kings take a 55-46 lead into halftime. Led by the strong play of its bench, Sacramento outscored the Pistons 29-19 in the second quarter. Monroe had 10 first-half points for Detroit.
NOTES: Thomas made two 3s and scored 12 first-quarter points for the Kings, who trailed 27-26. … The Kings have assigned second-year forward Tyler Honeycutt to the Reno Bighorns of the NBA D-League. He played in only 15 games a season ago and, after missing the preseason with an injury, has yet to see any action through the team’s first five games. … Maxiell had 10 points and six rebounds. … The hustling Robinson had seven rebounds in 12 minutes.
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