SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) - The Kings not only have a future in Sacramento, it appears they have discovered their future point guard as well in rookie Isaiah Thomas.
The hustling Thomas sparked a second-half surge and DeMarcus Cousins had 22 points and 18 rebounds for the Kings, who celebrated a possible new arena deal with a 103-96 victory over the struggling Utah Jazz on Tuesday night.
The city, the Kings and the NBA announced a tentative deal Monday to finance a new arena that would be built by 2015 and keep the team in Sacramento for many years, quieting talk that the franchise would be moving to Anaheim or Seattle at the end of the season. The City Council will vote on the plan March 6.
It was the 5-foot-9 Thomas firing up the crowd and his teammates after a lackluster first half by the Kings. The rookie from Washington did his thing, getting the team in running mode with his speed and quickness. Quiet in the opening half with three points, he finished with 18 points and eight assists, including nine points in the fourth quarter.
``I had to pick up the tempo, not just for myself, but for my teammates,' Thomas said. ``We needed to get out in transition and run. I'm out there trying to make the right play. I'm doing that at a pretty high level right now.'
Thomas, the last player chosen in the 2011 draft, started his fifth straight game. He has scored 96 points in those five games to tie a franchise mark set by Otis Birdsong in 1977.
``We did a pretty good job on him early by keeping him out of the paint,' Utah coach Tyrone Corbin said. ``But in the second half he got away from us. He got in the paint and made a couple of scores, and he got a three-point play.'
Perhaps getting the loudest ovation Tuesday were the Kings' owners, who addressed the crowd regarding the decision one day earlier to keep the club in Sacramento.
The Kings almost moved to Anaheim a year ago before Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, city leaders, and fan groups convinced the NBA to give Sacramento one last chance to help finance an arena. The team has been trying to get an arena deal for 13 years, according to owner Gavin Maloof.
Johnson was in the spirited crowd of 13,896. A former standout NBA point guard, he and Thomas are now casual friends.
``Having guys like Kevin Johnson and the Maloofs (owners Joe and Gavin) at the game made it a little more exciting,' said Thomas, who shot 6 of 12, hit two 3-pointers and converted all four free throws. ``You want to win for guys like that.'
Marcus Thornton scored 21 points and made five of six free throws in the final 16 seconds to help the Kings secure the victory. Tyreke Evans scored 13 and Jason Thompson had 10 points and eight rebounds.
Thornton was pleased to get the second half of the season off to a good start and reward the city's loyal fans.
``To hear that news yesterday that the team was staying, I'm so happy for our fans,' Thornton said. ``The Sacramento Kings are here to stay for a long time.'
Devin Harris scored 18 and had seven assists for Utah, which has dropped four straight and nine of 10. Josh Howard had 15 points, CJ Miles 13 and Al Jefferson added 12 and eight rebounds.
``We got caught up in their style of play instead of playing our style - slow tempo and running our offense,' Jefferson said. ``We started taking quick shots and that's what they wanted us to do. It's getting old and getting frustrating.'
A basket from close range by Howard brought the Jazz to 98-96 with 1:08 remaining. After Gordon Hayward missed a 3-pointer from the corner, Thornton was fouled and made both attempts for a 100-96 Kings lead with 16.1 seconds left.
Thomas tied the game at 87 with two free throws. John Salmons put the Kings ahead for good with a layup and Cousins scored four points, concluding an 8-0 run that gave Sacramento a 93-87 lead with 4:35 left.
``I think as he grows as a pro there's going to be a lot of nights where people won't have an answer for him,' Kings coach Keith Smart said. ``I think our guys now are starting to see that we can go to him at different spots on the floor.'
NOTES: Corbin spent most of the 1995-96 season playing for the Kings and said he was very happy to see the franchise remain in Sacramento. ... After several turnovers, frustrated rookie Jimmer Fredette was coming out of the game midway through the second quarter. However, before another dead ball situation could occur, Fredette hit a long 3-pointer and made a pinpoint pass to Chuck Hayes for a layup. Following a Kings timeout, Thomas went back to the bench and Fredette remained in the game. He finished with five points and two assists in 8 second-quarter minutes. ... Utah second-year forward Jeremy Evans, the NBA slam dunk champion, didn't play. ... The Jazz are 3-12 on the road.
The Associated Press News Service
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