NEW ORLEANS — After digging themselves a hole 18 points deep with poor shooting and porous defense, DeMarcus Cousins and the Sacramento Kings avoided the temptation to bicker with one another. Coach Keith Smart hoped it was a sign of a young team maturing and pulling together.
“They had a nice discussion with each other at halftime,” Smart said. “They picked up the pace and I thought they did a really good job.”
Cousins finished with 28 points and 19 rebounds, and Sacramento stormed back for a 100-92 victory over the slumping New Orleans Hornets on Monday night.
Tyreke Evans scored 11 of his 20 points in the fourth quarter, when Sacramento took its first lead on Marcus Thornton’s free throw with 6:24 left. Isaiah Thomas scored 17, including a 31-foot rainbow late in the shot clock that gave the Kings a 94-88 lead with 2:15 to go.
“I threw it up there and it went in. So that was a little dagger and I was happy I made it,” Thomas said. “We fought hard and stayed together. That’s one thing we’re getting better at is not getting on each other and not giving up.”
Thornton finished with 12 for the Kings, who currently sit near the bottom of the Western Conference at 9-15, but have won three straight.
“We’re just playing great basketball right now,” Evans said. “We want to keep that up and try to be in the race for the playoffs.”
Playoffs? That may be still a long shot for the Kings, but New Orleans is just trying to win a game. The Hornets have now lost six straight and 21 of 23 while falling to 4-21 overall.
Greivis Vasquez tied a season high with 20 points and Marco Belinelli scored 18 points for the Hornets, who have led numerous games in the second half only to fade down the stretch. Emeka Okafor scored a season-high 19 points, while Chris Kaman added 10 points, 12 rebounds and two blocks in his return from a weeklong absence while the Hornets tried to trade him.
“It’s not easy for us. … We played well enough to (win) games like this,” Vasquez said. “We’ve lost games by two or three points and we keep doing the same thing over and over again. At some point we have to learn the hard way. Hopefully soon.”
Cousins scored 12 of his points in the third quarter as the Kings trimmed its deficit from 13 at the half down to five at 72-67.
“Put all the stats aside. The main thing is we got the win (Monday),” Cousins said. “At halftime we talked about our effort in the first half and we knew we had to come out in the second half with much more energy. … We’re getting better. We just need to keep it up.”
Belinelli’s jumper and Vasquez’s end-to-end layup at the horn gave the Hornets a 78-69 lead heading into the final period, but it was not nearly enough.
Cousins’ driving reverse layup as he was fouled by Kaman ignited a 12-2 run to open the fourth quarter. Evans followed Cousins three-point play with nine straight points of his own — all on drives to the hoop, once as he was fouled.
“We knew we had to put the pressure on them and the way to do it was to get to the basket,” Evans said. “We were in attack mode.”
New Orleans was able to tie it at 86 on Trevor Ariza’s fast-break layup, but Thornton, who had struggled most of the game and finished 3-of-12 shooting, came back with a trey to give Sacramento the lead for good.
After shooting 32.5 percent (13-of-40) in the first half, Sacramento finished at 47 percent (37-of-78). New Orleans shot 42 percent (34-of-81) after making only 26 percent (6-of-23) during the fourth quarter.
“Well, that’s the story of our season so far. Play well in the first and then we do let it go in the second half,” said Ariza, who had 11 points. “Nobody likes to lose. It’s just getting old.”
The Hornets hit 11-of-22 shots in the first quarter, when Okafor scored 11 points and Belinelli 10. Reserve guard Xavier Henry later scored eight straight points and New Orleans’ lead got as large as 52-34 before the Kings trimmed it down to 52-39 on Cousins’ layup that narrowly beat the halftime horn.
Notes: Cousins, who now has 16 double-doubles this season, was called for a technical foul for arguing with officials after they whistled him for an offensive foul in the second quarter. … Jimmer Freddette played for the first time in three games, scoring five points. … Hornets guard Jarrett Jack missed his third straight game with a sore left knee. New Orleans also was without forward Jason Smith (concussion), reserve forward DaJuan Summers (right knee swelling), guard Eric Gordon (right knee bruise) and forward Carl Landry (left knee sprain). … Hornets forward Gustavo Ayon got his first-career start, making him the 12th different New Orleans player to start a game through only the first 25 games of the regular season. … Evans has scored 20 or more in four of five games.