Just one game into the Keith Smart era, the Sacramento Kings are excited about the direction the team is heading.
Orlando Magic coach Stan Van Gundy does not have the same feeling about his club.
The Kings go for their first three-game home winning streak in more than two years Sunday night when the Magic open a four-game trip.
Just hours after Smart replaced coach Paul Westphal, who was fired following two-plus seasons with the team, the Kings (3-5) overcame a 21-point halftime deficit to defeat Milwaukee 103-100 on Thursday.
"We got something special if we can keep it growing," said Smart, who joined Sacramento as an assistant this season after leading Golden State to a 36-46 record in 2010-11.
Marcus Thornton scored a season high-tying 27 points and Tyreke Evans added 26 with a season-best 10 rebounds. DeMarcus Cousins, who was involved in an escalating dispute with Westphal, added 19 points and 15 boards in his return to the starting lineup after being told to stay away from the team for one game and coming off the bench in the last two.
"You just felt free out there," Cousins said. "You didn't feel like you had like 30-pound bags on your back. You just felt free. It felt good to be out there."
The Kings, who are winless on the road and start a five-game trip Tuesday, are trying to win three straight at home for the first time since a four-game run Nov. 25-Dec. 2, 2009.
The Magic open their road swing coming off Friday's 97-83 defeat to Chicago. With a 97-89 season-opening loss at Oklahoma City, Orlando (5-3) has lost its only two games against playoff teams from last season.
"Quite simply we're not at that level. Not close," Van Gundy said Friday. "And that's OK - I'm not saying that crying or complaining. That's just the way it is. You've got to face reality. We've got to put in the work to try to reach that level, because right now we're not close to that level of play."
Starting guards Jameer Nelson (7.0 points per game) and Jason Richardson (9.8) are having the worst scoring seasons of their careers, but Dwight Howard continues to play as well as any center in the league. He's scored 28 points in each of the last two games and is averaging team-high 20.3 for the season along with and an NBA-best 15.9 rebounds.
Howard has posted eight consecutive double-doubles versus Sacramento while averaging 25.6 points and 14.6 boards.
Facing Howard could be even more challenging this time around for the Kings. Center Samuel Dalembert is no longer with the team, and newcomer Chuck Hayes had been starting at forward but is likely out at least three weeks after dislocating his left shoulder Thursday. J.J. Hickson, who had a season-high 11 rebounds Thursday, or Jason Thompson should get the majority of Hayes' minutes.
The Magic are among the league's best in scoring defense at 89.5 points per game, and they ranked fourth last season (93.7) but had problems with a Sacramento team which finished with 28 fewer wins. Despite being without an injured Evans for both meetings, the Kings won 111-105 in Orlando and lost 106-102 at home to the Magic despite Cousins' 29 points.
Thornton has averaged 20.7 points in three career matchups with Orlando and has scored 50 over his last two games.
Evans has a team-best 53 points in the Kings' last two home games, hitting 16 of 17 free throws.