PHILADELPHIA — The Sacramento Kings hope a win and some rest will help quiet the noise that has been surrounding the team lately.
DeMarcus Cousins had 28 points and 12 rebounds, and Darren Collison scored 21 of his 25 points after halftime to lead Sacramento to a 114-110 comeback victory over the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday night.
Rajon Rondo added 14 points, eight rebounds and 15 assists for the Kings, who snapped a four-game losing streak overall and six-game skid on the road while winning for just the second time in their last 10. It also allowed Sacramento to enter the All-Star break on a positive note following a tumultuous week that included rumours of the impending dismissal of coach George Karl.
"It’s a good time for a break," Karl said. "And winning gives you the luxury of trying to get back to a momentum and positive energy rather than the negative energy that’s been hanging over our team for the past couple of days."
Karl was given a vote of confidence by general manager Vlade Divac on Tuesday. Losing to the 76ers, who dropped to 8-45, certainly wouldn’t have quieted Karl’s critics though.
"We definitely need it," Quincy Acy, who provided needed energy in the second half, said of the win. "It’s been a rough past couple of days."
Rookie Jahlil Okafor tied his career high with 26 points to go with 10 rebounds, and Robert Covington scored a career-high 29 points for the 76ers, who played without top big man Nerlens Noel.
Noel, who is averaging 10.8 points, 8.2 rebounds and 1.6 blocks, was a late scratch due to right knee tendinitis.
The 76ers controlled the game throughout and led by 12 entering the fourth quarter. Sacramento slowly chipped away at the lead and finally went in front on Cousins’ 19-footer with 2 minutes, 19 seconds left that made it 106-105. The Kings were up 112-109 and had a chance to put the game away, but Cousins turned the ball over with 15.9 seconds remaining.
Rather than let Philadelphia try a tying 3-pointer, the Kings fouled Ish Smith and the 76ers guard made one of two. Collison then iced the game by making a pair of foul shots with 8.1 seconds left.
"We just didn’t do a good job executing the last few minutes of the game," Okafor said.
Philadelphia’s lead grew to as many as 17 points in the third quarter when Nik Stauskas hit a 3-pointer to make it 73-56 with 7:32 left in the period. The Kings scored 11 of the next 13 over 3:05 to get within 75-67. However, Cousins was forced to the bench on Philadelphia’s ensuing possession when he picked up his fourth foul and the 76ers took advantage, stretching their lead to 87-75 entering the fourth quarter.
ON THE HOT SEAT
The Kings played their first game following the team’s backing of Karl. Speculation about Karl’s job reached a peak Monday night when a report surfaced that he would be fired. However, a meeting with Divac on Tuesday resulted in Karl staying on board, with Divac saying, "we are collectively working through our issues" in a statement.
Divac told The Associated Press before Wednesday’s game that the Kings’ defence must improve. Sacramento entered Wednesday allowing a league-worst 109.1 points per game and had given up 120.8 over the recent four-game losing streak.
"Defensively, we are not good," Divac said. "That’s something we have to improve big. It would make a difference. Our offence is stable, but defensively we go on and off."
Karl took the previous 48 hours in stride, saying speculation about his job wouldn’t add extra pressure.
"My world is basketball, the gym and players," he said. "Your world is interpretation, innuendo, gossip. I’m not into it."
The Kings’ Rudy Gay and Caron Butler went out of their way to give handshakes and hugs to former 76ers great Allen Iverson, who made a courtside appearance.
"I have a lot of love and respect for him for life," Butler said.
Gay said: "He still looks young. It looks like he can play a little bit."
Kings: The Kings evened the two-game season series at 1 after falling 110-105 on Dec. 30 in Sacramento. … Cousins is a reserve on the Western Conference’s All-Star team, and will compete in the Skills Challenge.
76ers: Noel and Okafor are scheduled to compete in Rising Stars Challenge this weekend as part of the All-Star Game festivities in Toronto though Philadelphia coach Brett Brown said he doesn’t think Noel will play due to the injury. … Philadelphia led by as many as 19 points in its 98-92 overtime loss against the Clippers on Monday. … F Richaun Holmes returned after missing the last three games with an ankle injury. He had eight points.
Kings: Host Denver on Feb. 19.
76ers: At New Orleans on Feb. 19.