SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Sacramento Kings coach Keith Smart took off his blue jacket and tossed it to DeMarcus Cousins. The fouled-out forward played coach for the final minute, and everybody on the bench enjoyed a laugh.
That wasn't the only rare sight in Sacramento this season.
Marcus Thornton scored 31 points, Cousins had 23 points and five rebounds and the Kings held off the Memphis Grizzlies 119-110 on Tuesday night for only their second three-game winning streak this year.
"He decided, 'Coach, let me coach,'" Smart said. "I said, 'Fine. But if I get fined, you're paying.' It actually fit him. Either he's losing weight, or I'm gaining weight."
Sacramento is certainly looking different these days.
Thornton added seven rebounds and six assists, and Tyreke Evans returned after missing the last two games because of a sprained left ankle, scoring nine of his 13 points in the fourth quarter to help the Kings pull away.
Smart, who replaced the fired Paul Westphal after a 2-5 start, pointed to another sign of change: he said Evans asked during the morning shootaround that John Salmons remain in the starting lineup in his place, so long as the team is winning.
"They're starting to like each other," Smart said. "And they're getting closer to that other 'L' word."
No so much for Memphis lately.
Rudy Gay had 23 points and six rebounds, and Marc Gasol added 15 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists for the Grizzlies, who began a stretch of nine of 11 games away from home. Memphis has lost three of its last four and is suddenly in a rut.
"I don't want to talk about any individual person. All I want to talk about is that we got our butts kicked because we did not play hard and did not play together," Grizzlies coach Lionel Hollins said.
Sacramento's current three-game winning streak might be more impressive than when it rolled off wins against Portland, Golden State and New Orleans from Feb. 2-6. The Kings have beaten Boston, Minnesota and Memphis — all teams in, or fighting for, playoff spots — in the past week.
Sacramento still had to sweat out the latest victory.
After Memphis moved within three, Sacramento started an 11-2 run highlighted by a pair of layups by Evans and a dunk by Jason Thompson to go ahead 106-94. The spurt stalled for a moment when Cousins fouled out reaching for the ball near halfcourt with 6:48 remaining, flicking his headband off in disgust.
The Kings clamped down on defense and turned some sloppy Grizzlies turnovers into easy baskets. When Thompson grabbed a rebound and tossed it ahead to Isaiah Thomas for an uncontested layup with 3:05 remaining, Sacramento took a 12-point lead that proved too much for Memphis to overcome.
"It's just good to get wins," said Evans, adding he will continue to come off the bench. "It's good to see everybody happy. It doesn't matter who's playing good or who's playing what, as long as we're winning."
Sacramento started strong despite its short-handed — and short — point guard spot.
All of 5-foot-9, Thomas took over more duties for the hobbled Evans for the third straight game. He slipped and squeezed his way through the paint with ease, rebounding Thornton's air ball and tossing it in for a layup to put the Kings ahead 37-28 at the end of the first quarter.
Evans, still slowed by ankle injury, came in relief after missing the last two games. Randolph, playing only his third game since tearing the MCL in his right knee New Year's Day in Chicago, returned to the starting lineup for Memphis and had 13 points and seven rebounds.
The spark on both sides still came from others.
The Kings built a 54-41 lead behind Thornton and Cousins and seemed to be in complete control in front of one of the sparsest crowds of the season. Instead, Memphis went on a 17-6 run to close within two before Sacramento extended its lead back to 10 points, getting a dunk from Thompson on a 3-on-1 break just before the halftime buzzer.
Cousins received a bloody nose when he collided with Dante Cunningham in the third quarter. He twice had to leave the game — first team trainers had to plug Cousins' nose, then the power forward had to put on a new jersey after blood spilled onto his shorts — and Memphis narrowed Sacramento's lead to seven entering the fourth quarter.
"I got say that in the first quarter, we gave up 37 points and that was pretty much the game right there," said Grizzlies guard Tony Allen, who scored 14 points. "They set the tone and unfortunately we couldn't bounce back."
NOTES: Hollins expects G Gilbert Arenas to join the team Wednesday in Portland. Arenas, waived by Orlando in December through the new amnesty clause, signed with the Grizzlies on Tuesday. ... The Kings honored three surviving military members of the Pearl Harbor attacks between the first and second quarters. ... Kings F Donte Greene was called for a technical foul in the second quarter. Greene ran up to an official arguing that he was pushed out of bounds.
Follow Antonio Gonzalez at: www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP
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