SACRAMENTO (AP) – After publicly asking management to trade him a few days ago, Josh Smith gave the Atlanta Hawks too many reasons not to on Sunday night against the Sacramento Kings.
A disgruntled veteran who has played all eight seasons with Atlanta, Smith scored 19 of his 28 points in the second half for the Hawks, who defeated the Sacramento Kings for the eighth straight time with a 106-99 victory.
Angered after failing to make the Eastern Conference All-Star team and blaming it on no backing from the team, Smith told the Hawks he would like to be on another team when the trade deadline arrives on Thursday.
Smith had plenty to say about leaving the Hawks previously but didn’t want to discuss it after another excellent overall game. He made 13 of 23 shots and added six rebounds, three assists and three blocks in 39 minutes.
“I’m here. I have one more year on my contract. We’ll see what happens,” Smith said, refusing to elaborate. “I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing.”
And that may be fine with the Hawks, who have been benefiting from Smith’s strong play in March as they try to pick up wins despite continuing to be beset with injuries. Smith is averaging just under 26 points in six games in March. For the season, he’s averaging 17 points and nearly 10 rebounds a game.
“Josh has really been Superman for us,” Hawks coach Larry Drew said. “He’s been playing a lot of minutes and doing it at both ends of the floor. He’s playing absolutely super.”
The shooting of Smith was instrumental in helping Atlanta assume the lead for good with a strong third quarter. And the Hawks never trailed again in avoiding a third straight loss.
In the fourth quarter, it was Smith again hitting open shots. He followed a 3-pointer from Hinrich with a pair of jumpers and a free throw, putting the Hawks in front 88-76 with just over nine minutes left.
Deciding to play a smaller lineup, the Hawks inserted Kirk Hinrich as a starter, slid Smith to power forward, yet still managed to outrebound the Kings and also get out on the break for some easy baskets, evidenced by their 21 fastbreak points.
“I’m big on matchups, and one of my fears is they start three guards,” Drew said. “We elected to go with a three-guard lineup and it had some value for us.”
DeMarcus Cousins fouled out late in the game, but not before tying a season high with 28 and adding 12 rebounds for the Kings, who had their modest two-game winning streak snapped. John Salmons had 14 points, while both Marcus Thornton and Jimmer Fredette had 12.
Although Cousins was a major factor against a smaller Atlanta lineup, Kings coach Keith Smart credited Smith with being a major factor at both ends of the court.
“Offensively, he’s a small forward who is too quick sometimes for a power forward,” Smart said. “And he changes things on defense because he’s a shot blocker. Anytime he sees someone going to the basket, he tries to control the paint. What you saw him doing in the game puts other teams in a bind.”
Joe Johnson scored 21 points and Jeff Teague had 16 points and seven assists for the Hawks, who play the Kings just once this season. Hinrich and Marvin Williams both had 12 points and Zaza Pachulia added 10 points and 13 rebounds before fouling out in the fourth quarter.
“In the third quarter, we had great ball moment and were picking up the intensity at both ends of the court,” Johnson said. “We got out for some easy baskets and finally were making some stops on defense.”
Trailing by 12 with just over five minutes to play, the Kings ran off seven straight points, pulling to within 94-89 on a 3 by Thornton. But several costly turnovers and several missed 3s in the final two minutes prevented the Kings from getting any closer than five points.
The loss to Atlanta came two nights after the Kings had dismantled the defending champion Dallas Mavericks in a convincing 110-97 victory. However, that same energy that was so evident against Dallas seemed lacking against the Hawks.
“That’s kind of what immature teams do,” Kings rookie guard Isaiah Thomas said. “The energy wasn’t there like it was because we were playing the world champions. We have to get better and get up for every day.”
The Hawks are on a season-high six-game road trip that began with a win over Indiana. However, Atlanta suffered a three-point loss in Miami and fell to Detroit 86-85 on Friday night. The road trip concludes with consecutive games, Tuesday against Denver and Wednesday vs. the Los Angeles Clippers.
Smith’s shooting ignited the Hawks in the third quarter when they outscored the Kings 29-22 in taking an 80-74 lead into the fourth.
The Hawks had no answer for Cousins in the opening half when the Kings led 52-51. He scored from inside and out in getting 18 points. Pachulia had 10 points and 10 rebounds for the Hawks.