By Rick Hurd, The Sports Xchange
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — With only draft picks in question, the Sacramento Kings and Dallas Mavericks played what appeared to be a glorified exhibition game Tuesday at the Golden 1 Center.
It proved to be a bit more worth the while for the short-handed hosts.
“It’s a tough night when you play eight guys,” Kings coach Dave Joerger said after his bunch beat Dallas’ similarly short-handed group 98-87. “They played with a full heart like we’ve asked them to do all season, and they way they’ve done all season.”
Ben McLemore finished with a game-high 22 points and made all five of his 3-pointers as Sacramento (31-47) won for the fourth time in six games and kept alive its hopes of surpassing last season’s total of 33 wins. They also moved past the New York Knicks in the NBA standings and behind them in the June draft order.
Rookie Buddy Hield added 16 points, fellow rookie Georgios Papagiannis contributed 13, Langston Galloway had 15 in his first Sacramento start, and second-year man Willie Cauley-Stein had 12 points and a career-best 16 rebounds.
Sacramento, already eliminated from playoff contention for the 11th straight season, rested guards Darren Collison and Ty Lawson and played with only eight available men. Four of them were in their first or second seasons.
Galloway, acquired with Hield and forward Tyreke Evans from the New Orleans Pelicans in the trade for center DeMarcus Cousins in February, is in his third.
“It’s all about learning how to win, especially for us, the young crew,” rookie Skal Labissiere said after adding 11 points and seven rebounds. “So it feels good to go out there and get some wins. We’re learning how to close out games.”
Joerger started two rookies in his 28th starting lineup of the season, and players said he informed them just before the contest that only the eight players would play.
“It’s not really any different than any other game,” Cauley-Stein said. “It’s the same preparation. They sat out their guys, and we sat out ours, so I felt like it was even across the board.”
The Mavericks also were missing three key regulars. Dallas played without forward Dirk Nowitzki and guards Seth Curry and Wesley Matthews.
Nowitzki, the 19-year veteran and team’s second-leading scorer (14.4 points per game), sat out for the first time since late January with a sore right Achilles’ tendon. Curry, tied with Matthews for the team lead in games played with 70, missed the game with a left shoulder injury while Mathews received a planned rest.
Without the missing players, the teams struggled through a poor-shooting, occasionally sloppy affair. The Kings won despite shooting only 45 percent from the field, a figure they overcame by making 12 off 22 shots from 3-point range.
The Mavericks made only 32 field goals and shot 40 percent, including 27.9 percent from beyond the arc.
“We threw some unusual lineups out there, because there are some things we need to look at,” Dallas coach Rick Carlisle said. “We had a lot of guys play well.”
Nicolas Brussino scored 13 points to pace Dallas (32-45), while Dwight Powell and Harrison Barnes each added 11 as the Mavericks forged a 77-75 lead with 7:13 left in the contest.
But McLemore drove the lane for the tying bucket, and after Brussino missed a 3-pointer, Hield was fouled and made two free throws. Calloway followed another Dallas miss with a jumper, and Hield than answered a Dallas score with a 3-pointer for an 84-79 lead.
Another layup by McLemore, a short hook by Papagiannis and a putback by Cauley-Stein pushed the lead to 90-81 and capped Sacramento’s 15-4 run.