Kings hold on for 86-82 win over Blazers
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — As rough as the season’s opening month has been for the Sacramento Kings, it’s been a bit harder for their center Willie Cauley-Stein.
Projected to make a leap in his third season, Cauley-Stein instead has been wildly inconsistent during the season’s opening month, with his 8.2 scoring average and 5.6 rebounding average through the season’s first 14 games earning him a seat on the bench for the first time in the 15th.
Not that he saw it that way.
“It’s just a different look I feel like,” the Kings’ third-year center said after scoring a season-high 22 points and making a free throw with 3.4 seconds left to seal his team’s 86-82 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday at the Golden 1 Center. “Coming off the bench and playing the (power forward) is good for me, playing in space and not being so claustrophobic.”
Cauley-Stein scored 13 points in the second half and had two key put-backs in the fourth quarter and Sacramento (4-11) won its third straight at home and snapped a three-game losing streak. He added 10 rebounds.
The second of the put-backs came after he set a screen for guard De’Aaron Fox, rolled to the basket and dunked Fox’s shot miss from inside the key.
“Getting those easy buckets is key just to get in a rhythm,” Cauley-Stein said. “Everything else kind of goes from there.”
A late injury to point guard Buddy Hield marred the win, which came after Sacramento went 0-3 and lost by an average of 30.3 points on an East Coast road trip. Hield appeared to step on a shoe with 6:52 remaining in the final quarter and suffered a sprained right ankle.
He is doubtful for Saturday’s rematch between the two teams in Portland.
George Hill added 14 points, and Garrett Temple also had 14 for the Kings. Sacramento, coming off a 126-80 loss in Atlanta on Wednesday that was the sixth-worst in franchise history, scored the game’s first five points and never trailed by more than five.
Backup center Kosta Koufos added 10 points and seven rebounds, also off the bench.
Cauley-Stein and Koufos “navigated a lot of pick-and-rolls and our guards fought,” Kings coach Dave Joerger said. “It’s not always going to work out great, because they can make you look real bad ... but we fought like crazy.”
Damian Lillard scored a game-high 29 points to pace Portland (8-7), but the Blazers failed to win a third straight game for the first time this season. They lost for only the second time in their past 10 games against Sacramento.
“It’s tough winning on the road,” Blazers coach Terry Stotts said. “Sacramento played extremely hard. They played with desperation defensively. They were aggressive, and we didn’t handle that well.”
Portland guard C.J. McCollum, who torched the Kings for 87 points in three games last season, scored 19 points but didn’t make a single shot from beyond the arc.
He also committed four of Portland’s 17 turnovers.
Guard Shabazz Napier, a double-digit scorer in three of his past four games off the bench, scored just five in 21 minutes.
The Blazers made only 37 percent from the field and endured a field-goal drought of 4:04 in the third quarter and 4:23 in the fourth quarter.
The Blazers also were held to zero fast-break points. They had been averaging only 4.4 such points per contest before Friday, the worst mark in the 30-team NBA.
“They got back,” Stotts said. “We didn’t push it as much.”
Overall, the Blazers also made only 7 of 23 shots from 3-point range.
NOTES: NOTES: Portland’s three-guard tandem of starters Damian Lillard, CJ McCollum and reserve Shabazz Napier have combined to average 53.8 points, 10.2 assists over the Blazers’ past five contests. Napier entered with only one turnover in his past three games and had scored in double-digits in three/four of his past five. ... Kings coach Dave Joerger returned G De’Aaron Fox and F Skal Labissiere to the starting lineup and trotted out his team’s seventh combination in 15 games. Sacramento consistently has started sluggishly, and is averaging 21.6 points in the opening quarter. ... To say the Blazers would like to speed up their pace of play is an understatement. Portland entered the night averaging 4.4 fast-break points per contest, the worst mark in the NBA, 1.5 per game worse than the 29th-ranked New York Knicks and 21.8 behind the league-leading Golden State Warriors. ... F Vince Carter has missed five straight games for Sacramento, because of kidney stones. The NBA’s oldest active player has averaged only 12 minutes a game, scoring 2.6 points, in the nine games he has played.