Basketball was back in Sac on Wednesday night, as the Kings tipped off their preseason campaign with a game against the Phoenix Suns. For a crowd of less than 10,000 it was a surprisingly upbeat atmosphere inside Power Balance Pavilion. And the Kings helped keep things lively, playing an energetic, fast-paced game on both ends. While it’s hard to draw any serious conclusions from the preseason opener, the Kings 102-96 victory included some encouraging signs for the upcoming season.
LADIES AND GENTLEMEN, JAMES JOHNSON – Many people (myself included) have lamented the Kings lack of action during the offseason. But Geoff Petrie may have found something with one of his few new additions, James Johnson (19 MIN, 9 PTS, 4-8 FG, 7 REB, 3 AST, 3 BLK, 1 STL). Johnson, presumed to be a candidate for the starting small forward position, came off the bench and immediately displayed a wide-ranging skillset. Quick feet defensively, contesting shots inside and out, bringing the ball up court, finding the open teammate. Johnson’s impressive night came to a head in the fourth quarter. The newcomer fought for two offensive boards, the second ending in his own banked-in 10-footer. On the ensuing possession, Johnson stole an errant pass, pushed the ball up court, and found a wide open Jimmer Fredette for a big triple that lit up the crowd. Johnson looks to be a solid find and where ever he plays, he will provide energy.
LINEUP CHANGE…OR NOT? – The prevailing thought all offseason was that the Tyreke Evans (24 MIN, 9 PTS, 4-10 FG, 7 REB, 4 AST, 0 TO, 1 BLK) at small forward experiment had ended. Evans didn’t seem to enjoy his time there and to be honest, he seemed lost at the position. But to open the preseason, there was Isaiah Thomas and Marcus Thornton in the backcourt, and Tyreke Evans running the three-spot. Aside from DeMarcus Cousins, those are the Kings three best players so in that regard, it makes sense to play them all. But Evans had a tough time bodying the Suns 6-foot-10 small forward, Michael Beasley. The Kings will need to figure out a system of play that maximizes the talent of all three players in order for that lineup to work consistently. Then again, it was only preseason game No. 1, so it may be nothing more than Keith Smart getting his big guns extra playing time.
MOVING THE BALL – We’ve been hearing about the Kings chemistry this offseason, from getting together in the summer to team-building exercises during training camp. Those activities seemed to translate to the court where Sacramento again showed good cohesion. The ball movement was solid — 24 assists on 35 made baskets — and it was rare to see a player take a forced shot. On the sideline, much like last year, the bench was involved in the game, rooting for the players on the floor.
OTHER OBSERVATIONS – Thomas Robinson (29 MIN, 12 PTS, 4-9 FG, 8 REB, 2 STL, 1 BLK) sure is a lively kid. Wow. Great instincts on the boards and amazing athleticism. His defense was as advertised — quick to step out on the screen, strong underneath. He can contribute off the bench immediately … Jimmer (21 MIN, 10 PTS, 2-8 FG, 4 AST, 4 REB) was primarily running the point. He dished out four assists but still had trouble gaining separation from defenders. And his inability to knock down shots only made penetrating more difficult … Aaron Brooks only saw 6:38 of floor time. Figuring it was just a case of Coach Smart wanting to see other players … DeMarcus Cousins (5-15 FG, 21 PTS, 9 REB) led the Kings in field goal attempts. Second? John Salmons (3-11 FG). Ugh.