NFL playoff field set:

Thomas plays big for Kings again

The SportsXchange

ORLANDO, Fla. -- As the 60th and final pick of the 2011 draft, diminutive point guard Isaiah Thomas came into the NBA with a chip on his shoulder, determined to prove he belonged as much as anyone.

The chip is still there -- and growing.

Thomas had another big game Saturday night, getting 23 points, nine assists and three steals to lead the Sacramento Kings to a much-needed, 105-100 victory over the Orlando Magic.

Since becoming the starting point guard eight games ago, he has scored at least 20 points six times. He has averaged 20.9 points, 7.4 assists and 39.1 minutes.

"I don't want to just prove I can be a regular starter in this league, or just lead a team. I want to prove I can lead a winning team," he said. "I've got a coach who really believes in me now. ... And we have the guys in the locker room who can make this work. I know we do."

Before the game, coach Mike Malone talked about trying to cut back on the big minutes being played by Thomas, who is just 5 feet 9 and 185 pounds, to avoid wearing him down early in the season.

Instead of cutting back, he played Thomas 43 minutes -- the third time in the last six games he has eclipsed 40 minutes.

"I want to win, and I want to be out there," Thomas said. "If I have to play 43-45 minutes, I can. I've worked hard to get into this position, so I can handle whatever comes my way."

Thomas hit the basket that closed out the Magic with 36 seconds remaining after Orlando cut the deficit to four points.

Recently acquired guard Rudy Gay also scored 23 points, including nine in the fourth quarter to help carry the Kings (8-18), who won the final game of a road trip that included losses in Charlotte, Atlanta and Miami.

Volatile Sacramento center DeMarcus Cousins was whistled for his eighth technical foul of the season midway through the fourth quarter after questioning an official's call. He finished with 14 points and a game-high 11 rebounds.

Guard Arron Afflalo had 26 points and forward Tobias Harris scored 21 for the Magic (8-19), who lost for the ninth time in the last 11 games.

Gay and guard Marcus Thornton combined to score Sacramento's first 18 points in the fourth quarter, allowing the Kings to open a 93-81 lead. Thornton hit three consecutive 3-pointers during that stretch.

Although the Magic closed to four points late in the game, the Kings never lost their lead, and Thomas was there to close it. The Magic committed a pair of turnovers in the final 40 seconds that also contributed to another loss.

"In the fourth quarter, we did enough to seal the win," Malone said. "We didn't play well early, but our defense was better tonight. It's something we've talked about."

The Magic led by two points going into the fourth quarter after closing the third period with a 6-0 burst that included four points by guard Victor Oladipo, who played as a reserve after 16 consecutive starts.

"Just a wasted opportunity," Afflalo said. "And things sometimes become contagious out there. Some key turnovers down the stretch, a missed layup, missed free throws. It just piles up."

The Kings, who trailed throughout the first half, opened the third quarter with a 10-2 run and grabbed a 66-60 lead. The Magic responded with an 11-2 run to retake the lead midway in the third quarter.

The Magic led 58-65 at halftime, getting 13 points from Afflalo and 11 from Nelson. They led by as many as 12 in the second quarter, but the Kings made a late 10-0 run that closed the gap quickly.

The Kings got 10 points from Thomas in the first quarter and 10 from Gay in the second.

NOTES: Magic rookie G Victor Oladipo, who made only 1 of 12 shots from the field in the previous game, was back in a reserve role on Saturday after 16 consecutive starts. ... Magic reserve guard E'Twaun Moore was put on the inactive list because of a thigh bruise after getting kneed in practice on Thursday. ... The Magic started G Arron Afflalo, F Glen Davis and F Tobias Harris together for the first time this season. ... Kings coach Mike Malone said before the game that he wants to start giving more playing time to G Jimmer Fredette and G Ray McCallum, his backup point guards. ... Malone has been especially frustrated by his team's lack of attention to defense on this four-game road trip. In the first three games, the Kings allowed an average of 113.7 points. Part of the reason is that they have had only one practice since they acquired Rudy Gay, Quincy Acy and Aaron Gray from Toronto on Dec. 9. "What I've reminded myself, not as an excuse, but the reality is with one practice with these guys, you're almost teaching on the fly," Malone said.
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