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Kings Ready to Step Up

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Filed under Analysis, Big Post, From the Practice Facility, Hoops, Practice Coverage.

Kings Ready to Step Up

Find out how Coach Smart and Kings players plan to find success in the absence of Cousins. Plus, Robinson and Johnson dish on strategies to contain the Trail Blazers.

Kings Head Coach Keith Smart on Saturday was glad to be back on the practice court, working with his players and reviewing film in preparation for Sunday’s contest against Portland.

The Kings leader was highly encouraged when Sacramento – playing shorthanded in the second half against the L.A. Clippers the previous night – cut the deficit to six points in the fourth quarter.

“When (the team) went back on the floor, you saw in (players’) faces they were going to compete,” he said. “We had great moments and great opportunities … a lot of things could’ve fallen our way, but more importantly, (I was pleased with) the way those guys competed.”

In a morning meeting, Smart, Kings President of Basketball Operations Geoff Petrie and the team’s front office staff agreed to suspend center DeMarcus Cousins indefinitely for unprofessional behavior and conduct detrimental to the team.

“We made a decision and now we have to get this group of guys ready to play against a pretty good basketball team,” said Smart, adding No. 15’s status will be reassessed in the coming days.

“It’s unfortunate that we’re in this situation – I hate the fact we are in this situation – but obviously, we are in it. There’s nothing you can do about it but get yourself ready, get the players prepared and ready to play and ready to work.”

After finding out the news about his teammate, rookie Thomas Robinson adhered to his coach’s message.

“I think (my reaction) was pretty much, ‘We have to work and stay together as a team, come out and have a good practice,” said No. 0.

Forward James Johnson echoed a similar sentiment.

“I just know we have to get stronger as a team and we have to start to trust each other a lot more,” he said. “We’re going to have some guys step up, including myself, to be able to win games.”

Smart believes by continuing to stay aggressive and by following its game plan, Sacramento will find success without its leading scorer and rebounder.

“We have to play the game – you have to keep doing that, and sometimes you find a way,” said the Kings leader. “You never know what can happen when a group galvanizes itself behind a situation that’s happened, and you never know what can take place.”

Free Throws

– Johnson, who’s averaged seven points on 52.6 percent shooting from the field and two blocks over the last three games, explains his hard work on the practice court is finally paying dividends. The Wake Forest product credits the extra time he’s put in with guards Jimmer Fredette and Isaiah Thomas for the uptick in his production.

“I’m one of the hardest workers I feel like, and I want to continue that religious belief of working hard pays off,” he said. “I started off shooting well in practice the other day and carried it over to the game.”

– After defeating Portland 99-80 on Dec. 8, Sacramento aims to maintain a similar strategy in Sunday’s rematch.

“(We have to) just play hard, try to outwork them, keep a body on them, try to limit some of the second chance points … (and) take care of the ball,” said Robinson.

“We need our guard-play to be spectacular like it was,” added No. 52. “Aaron Brooks put on a phenomenal show, Isaiah shut down (Damian) Lillard (and) made him look like a rookie – I think that’s what we’re going to need.”

Additionally, Johnson looks forward to slowing down any Trail Blazers player with the hot hand, including athletic forward Nicolas Batum.

“I’m pretty much just (going to be) matched up against the best scorer they have going at the time – I don’t care who it is,” he said. “Batum has been playing pretty well. I might have to step up at the (power forward) a little bit, but that’s the challenge I’m willing to accept.”

And One

Catch Thomas and the Kings take on Lillard and the Trail Blazers at Sleep Train Arena on Sunday at 6 p.m. To get tix, Click Here.

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