Kings Edge Wizards With New Crunch Time Lineup


Credit: Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

For much of the game, it looked like the Sacramento Kings just weren’t going to get over the hump. The Wizards carried a slim advantage through much of the game, and every time the Kings closed within a few points, Washington buried a couple long balls to lengthen the lead. But thanks to the some big time clutch plays and a tightening of the defense, the Kings surged past the Wizards late. After a Tyreke Evans free throw put the Kings up by one, Sacramento provided one final sequence of strong defense to hang on for the 95-94 win, as two Washington attempts in the final 10 seconds fell short.

SMART’S FINAL FIVE — Keith Smart takes a lot of grief here and elsewhere for his strange substitution patterns. But against the Wizards, the head coach pulled all the right strings. For nearly all of the second half, Smart rode a lineup of Jimmer Fredette, Tyreke Evans, John Salmons, Chuck Hayes and DeMarcus Cousins. Aside from the occasional isolation mishap on offense, this group provided the lift needed for victory. The Evans-Fredette backcourt has always made sense, and you can see why — Tyreke was able to control the ball and penetrate while Jimmer roamed the perimeter and made Washington pay for overplays. Down low, Hayes was a solid fit, slowing down Kevin Seraphin in particular who had a strong game for the Wiz. It was nice to see Smart stick with this group. Sometimes there’s no need to tinker with success.

JIMMER ON BOTH ENDS — Jimmer sat out the first half, giving way to Aaron Brooks and Marcus Thornton. But realizing he needed someone to stretch the defense, Smart turned to Fredette in the second half, and the move paid off. Jimmer (21 MIN, 12 PTS, 5-11 FG, 2 AST, 1 STL) immediately looked for his offense, not just relying on outside shots but also making a conscious effort to get inside the Washington defense. It was his work on the other end that was more of a surprise. Asking Fredette to contain John Wall or a smoking hot Bradley Beal is a tough task, but Jimmer was far from overmatched. He contested shots, got his hand on at least two passes that led to Washington turnovers and worked his butt off to stay in front of the athletic guards. Jimmer will never be mistaken for an all-world defender, but he’s making strides, and competence on that end only furthers his case for more playing time.

STEADY SALMONS — John Salmons deserves a ton of credit for the way he’s playing lately. The veteran is providing that calm, steady presence that the team desperately needs when the game hits crunch time or the Kings simply need a basket. Salmons (43 MIN, 21 PTS, 9-15 FG, 4 REB, 2 AST, 2 TO, 1 STL) was the Kings go-to guy in the first quarter, scoring on a variety of midrange shots. And when the Kings needed it most, Salmons buried a corner three to tie the game with just over a minute left. It goes without saying that he was also effective on the defensive end. This is some of the best ball Kings fans have seen from Salmons over both of his stints with the team. He’s doing everything the team needs, and it’s no coincidence that in each of the Kings last three wins, Salmons has led the team in minutes.

OTHER OBSERVATIONS — DeMarcus Cousins (43 MIN, 21 PTS, 9-19 FG, 16 REB, 5 AST, 6 TO, 3 STL) seemed to be teetering on the edge of a breakdown for much of the game, as he had physical battles with Nene, Emeka Okafor and Seraphin. But credit the big man for staying relatively cool under pressure. His work on the boards was particularly of note, as some of those late game rebounds were immensely important … Bradley Beal (26 PTS, 6-7 3FG) would be a sophomore in college. Scary … Tyreke Evans (40 MIN, 21 PTS, 8-15 FG, 8 REB, 8 AST, 2 TO, 3 STL) is getting a little more bounce in his step. He was very aggressive — sometimes too much — against Washington, but it was great to see him play with confidence. And the assist number proves he was a willing passer … Jason Thompson (22 MIN, 6 PTS, 3-8 FG, 2 REB, 2 TO) has now scored six points or fewer in each of the last four games … Whether it’s the uncertainty surrounding the team, the quality of the games or a little of both, the atmosphere at Sleep Train Arena has been terrific the past two games. Fans are energized.