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Isaiah Thrives Against NBA Elite

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

Isaiah Thrives Against NBA Elite

Find out how Thomas, coming off one of the best games of his young career, has continued to flourish. Plus, Robinson explains his new mindset and Evans returns to the starting lineup.

For the second consecutive time, Isaiah Thomas lit up the Miami Heat in the third quarter, connecting on four three-pointers and notching 21 of his career-high 34 points in the period.

“I feel like I can make every shot – even when I’m not in the zone,” said No. 22. “That’s just the confidence I have. Also, my whole life, I’ve always scored in bunches. I may have two or three points here, and then you look up, I might have 15.”

Most importantly, Thomas says, his teammates consistently located him for open looks.

“I was moving without the ball, they found me and I knocked down the shots,” he said, adding he was unaware of his point total during the contest. “I was just trying to fight, just trying to be aggressive.”

Kings Head Coach Keith Smart commends the UW product’s patience and determination to succeed, regardless of his role.

“He’s a hard worker – he went through the moments when he was a starter for the team, then coming off the bench, and then (playing) limited minutes, and he never wavered from how he worked,” said Smart. “He never wavered from where he was trying to eventually get to, and (Saturday’s) game and the last couple of games, he’s done a great job.”

The Kings leader notes Thomas, who’s notched 14.9 points and 3.9 assists per game in January – nearly doubling his averages in November – has continued to show steady progress in his second season.

“When he’s making shots, he has to take those, but when he sees that he’s not making shots tonight, he has to be a facilitator,” said Smart. “That’s part of learning how to be a point guard in the NBA.”

Monday, the No. 60 pick in the 2011 Draft will square off against the No. 1 selection, Cleveland guard Kyrie Irving.

“(I have to) make it tough for him – I’m going to try to pressure him,” said Thomas. “He’s a guy who when I watch film, he has a ‘wow’ factor – he makes tough shots.”

Smart says the 5-foot-9 point guard has his work cut out for him not only against the Cavaliers, but nearly every game against top-caliber talent at his position.

“The next two nights, he’s going to have his hands full,” said the Kings leader, referring to Irving and Wizards standout John Wall. “But I think he’s going to be ready for the challenge.”

Free Throws

– After notching his first career double-double – as well as his third consecutive game with double-digit rebounds – Kings forward Thomas Robinson credited his newfound approach for his success.

“When I came into the League, I went away from who I was as a player, and it just hit me that I’m a hustle, energy guy,” he said. “I tried to go away from it, and I fought it a little while, but I’m back to that and I think it just showed up in the numbers the past few games.”

Smart says No. 0 – who ranks second on the Kings in rebounds per 36 minutes (10.2) among players with at least 200 minutes – brings an invaluable skillset each time he steps out on the floor.

“What he’s doing now and how he’s playing, it’s finally sinking in – ‘Let me just be a big-time rebounder,’” said the Kings leader. “He can be one of those super per-minute rebound guys if he sets his mind to it, because one, he can rebound out of his area (and) number two, he can rebound above his area by going up in traffic, well above the rim.

“He can affect the game for us from a defensive standpoint, a rebounding standpoint and (with) energy like no one else on our team.”

Thomas has likewise noticed the Kansas product’s renewed mentality and focus.

“I think he’s really focusing on knowing what he needs to do, and that’s get on the boards and get energy points,” said No. 22. “We’re in the gym every night together, so I see him watching film.

“Every time I tell him, ‘Once you get in the game, don’t let anybody outwork you,’ and he’s taken that to heart now.”

– Smart revealed Tyreke Evans will return to the starting lineup after coming off the bench in his first three games since returning to the court on Jan. 7. No. 13 previously encouraged the Kings leader to start veteran Francisco Garcia while he worked to get his body back in playing shape.

“I need to get (Evans) back going again … get his basketball confidence back to where he’s playing and making plays,” said Smart, disclosing the guard has, at times, been apprehensive about his role in the offense.

“I want him to understand, you have to be you first, and I want you play in the way you were playing that off-guard position that you started to man and play very, very well.”

Thomas believes once the Memphis product rediscovers his comfort level, the Kings will become a more dangerous squad on both sides of the court.

“He’s one of the top guards in the NBA, and he gives us a lot of aggressiveness on the offensive end and he also gets out and defends,” he said. “We need him to be the Tyreke that everyone knows him as, and once he gets back to that, I think we’ll be a better team.”

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