KINGS 115, MEMPHIS 106
MEMPHIS, Tenn. - Despite what this piece of paper said...
...there wasn't anything close to that many people at the game on Friday night. And that was a good thing for me, as it meant I could move up a few rows from my assigned media seat and observe from an arm's reach of Kings coach Kenny Natt and his team. I was told the vacant front-row seat goes for $275. And because this was the perfect night to be that close, it was worth every penny I didn't spend.
After months of watching a group that has had less chemistry than a team of unemployed scientists, this was different. Whether it was the recent roster shakeup or the post-All Star break second wind or maybe the sheer adrenaline rush of playing in such an electric environment (rim shot, please), a funny thing happened on the way to the FedEx Forum.
The Kings had fun.
Before you dissenting commenters state the obvious that a) being in a game or leading makes it that more enjoyable or that b) hyperbole should be avoided when it comes to beating the lowly Grizzlies, let me be clear that the elements of which we speak are universal no matter which team the tipoff is against.
Mood. Body language. Attitude.
It was all good against the Grizzlies.
As Kevin Martin noted to me afterward, part of it may have been the simplicity of the task at hand. With just eight players available, it was an all-hands-on-deck outing that left little room for gripes about rotations and playing time that so often breed dysfunction with this bunch. We'll see how the culture develops with seven new players set to join the team soon, but it's worth sharing a couple of the revealing moments because times like these are so rare.
For the record, I believe Ike Diogu, Will Solomon and maybe Andres Nocioni will be there tonight, although I have to confirm and will update with a new blog post later in the day. Now on to the highlight list of hilarity (limited to two because we're almost on to the next game by this point)...
* No. 1 on the list by far comes with 3:27 left in the fourth quarter, when Grizzlies big man Marc Gasol backs Jason Thompson down in the post and it appears the Kings rookie forward appears may have flopped as he takes Gasol's shoulder in his sternum and falls hard on his backside. Numerous members of the Kings coaching staff yell at Thompson to not flop, and the youngster simply isn't hearing it.
He takes huge exception with the claim, turning to yell at the bench "It's the same thing they did to me" with so much fire that the Kings coaches simply had to respect the competitiveness. The entire bench erupted in laughter, with the coaches repealing their accusation while putting their hands up as if to say, "OK, whoa there big fella" and no one in stitches more than assistant Shareef Abdur-Rahim. I think he was actually in tears.
Thompson, of course, was outstanding with 17 points (6 of 10 shooting), nine rebounds, three assists and two blocks in 39 minutes.
* The Beno Udrih lovefest. Watching the Kings point guard this season has been fascinating, as his teammates have been patient throughout the course of his many struggles. They tend to celebrate with him in the good times and turn a blind eye in the bad, and the Memphis outing was the perfect example.
Udrih came up big in numerous key possessions late, including a rare throw-ahead on the break to an off-and-running Kevin Martin that came just before Thompson's aforementioned eruption. Martin's layup put the Kings up nine with 3:18 to go, but the Kings would need Udrih to come through once more before the rare win could be secured (Yes, I'm ignoring the final two minutes of prolonged 'drama').
Which takes us back to the fun factor. After Udrih's 14-footer with 44 seconds left came off a pick and roll on the left elbow, Donte' Greene led the pack that darn near hoisted Udrih atop their shoulders. The funniest part was Greene's awkward chest bump with Udrih, where he almost had to walk the point guard through this time-tested tactic of NBA celebrations. Udrih didn't seem to know how to do it, but he smiled the whole time nonetheless. - Sam Amick