Kings give Garcia a shot as their starting small forward
Small forward has been a trouble spot for the Sacramento Kings for various reasons the last two seasons. The team has gone with youth and experience at the position, and the results have been uneven as Coach Paul Westphal sought the right balance of consistency on offense and defense. Westphal recently turned to the longest-tenured King, six-year veteran Francisco Garcia, in search of stability at small forward.
Not surprisingly, the former University of Louisville star took being moved to the starting lineup in stride. He sees his role as simple, which probably makes him an ideal starter. "Just being solid," Garcia said. "Being solid on both ends of the floor."
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Westphal isn't looking for spectacular play from the small forward on offense. Among Tyreke Evans, Beno Udrih, DeMarcus Cousins and Carl Landry, there aren't many plays left to be run for the small forward. There's also the defensive focus the Kings need from the position. They have had problems guarding small forwards much of the season. After trying Donte Greene and Omri Casspi at small forward, Westphal gave Garcia a try.
"He's probably had the least opportunity to show what he can do at that spot for an extended period of time with his (wrist) injury last year and the way we started this year," Westphal said. "I thought it was time for him to get a good look."
Garcia has justified the look, particularly on offense.
In his last three games, all 10 of his baskets have been three-pointers (in 15 attempts). Garcia has made a team-high 41.7 percent (35 of 84) of his threes. When Garcia is shooting well from outside, the lanes open for the guards to drive, creating space for Landry and Cousins in the post.
"I always look for him when I'm in the game because I know he can hit a shot," Evans said. "Every time he shoots, I think it's going in. His confidence is sky high. So when I drive, if he's in the corner, I try to get it to him."
Garcia, 6-foot-7 and 195 pounds, is the smallest player the Kings have tried at small forward. He said it's not about shutting down great scorers but relying on fundamentals to slow them down.
"Just bother them a little bit," Garcia said. "A great player is going to make shots; I understand that. It's just being solid."
Pierce scores 30, Rondo back for Celtics
Paul Pierce scored 30 points, Ray Allen had 23 and the Boston Celtics beat the Raptors 93-79 on Sunday night in Toronto. Glenn Davis added 15 points, 11 rebounds and eight assists as Boston won for the 10th time in 11 meetings with Toronto.
Boston point guard Rajon Rondo returned to the starting lineup after missing seven games because of a sprained left ankle. He had four points and eight assists in 34 minutes. Rondo, who came in averaging an NBA-best 13.2 assists, had to be helped off the court in the fourth quarter of a victory over the New York Knicks on Dec. 15, and had not played since.
"With him, because he knows everything we run, we were back into running stuff we'd basically put into hibernation while he was out," Boston Coach Doc Rivers said.
"Obviously I want to be out there with the team, calling the sets," Rondo said. "I'm the most comfortable with it. I know the plays better than Doc."
Celtics forward Kevin Garnett, who injured his right calf in Wednesday's loss to Detroit, missed his second straight game.
■ Joe Johnson and Josh Smith regained their shooting touches just in time for the Atlanta Hawks, who appeared headed for another loss after shooting 37.1 percent in the first half and falling behind by as many as 16 points. Johnson scored 11 of his 29 points in the fourth quarter and Smith added 22, rallying the Hawks to a 107-98 victory over the host Los Angeles Clippers. Clippers rookie Blake Griffin scored 19 of his 31 points in the first half and pulled down 15 rebounds for his 27th double-double and 21st in a row. But he shot 3-for-10 in the second half.
■ Amare Stoudemire scored 26 points, including six of New York's last seven points, and the Knicks beat the host Indiana Pacers 98-92. Danny Granger had 25 points and 17 rebounds, and Darren Collison had 22 points, six assists and five rebounds for the Pacers, who lost for the fourth time in their last five games.
■ Shawn Marion scored 22 points and DeShawn Stevenson added 21, leading the Dallas Mavericks to a 104-95 road win over the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Mavericks, playing without starting forwards Dirk Nowitzki and Caron Butler, used a balanced attack to break a three-game losing streak. Butler suffered a knee injury Saturday in Milwaukee and could be out at least a couple of months. He's scheduled to have an MRI, which may be performed Monday.
Police: Orioles reliever suspect in killing
Baltimore Orioles reliever Alfredo Simon is the main suspect in a fatal shooting New Year's Eve in the Dominican Republic, police said. The pitcher is suspected of killing 25-year-old Michel Castillo Almonte and wounding his 17-year-old brother during a celebration in the northeast coastal town of Luperon, police said in a statement. No motive was disclosed. Simon is from the Dominican Republic, and police said he fled after the violence.
Felipe Alou Jr., a Dominican representative for the Orioles, said he spoke with Simon on Saturday and the player said he was in the area when the violence occurred but insisted he was not involved in the shootings. "He says to us that the wounded man can confirm that he was not the one who fired," Alou told The Associated Press.
The 29-year-old pitcher went 4-2 with a 4.93 ERA last season. He had 17 saves before Orioles Manager Buck Showalter decided to make Koji Uehara the closer.
Breathoffreshheir wins Ruthless Stakes
Breathoffreshheir rolled to a 3¾-length win over Status Pending in the $63,700 Ruthless Stakes for 3-year-old fillies on Sunday at Aqueduct in New York. Carlos Marquez Jr. was aboard for trainer Ben Perkins Jr. as Breathoffreshheir got her third win in four starts. The time was 1:11.30 for the six furlongs on the fast track.
■ Trainer Chris J. Englehart went 2-for-2 at Aqueduct on Sunday, extending his winning streak to seven straight races and coming to within one of what is said to be the modern-day record for consecutive wins by a trainer in New York. Englehart's hot streak continued Sunday when he won the fifth race with Isn't She Grand and the sixth with Furhlang. The trainer will try to make it a 8-for-8 on Wednesday when he sends out Who's the Cowboy in the fifth race. On Thursday, Englehart has entered three horses: Crafty Mark in the first, Sorority Sister in the sixth, and High Stakes Player in the eighth race.
Kansas names new athletics director
Kansas hired Sheahon Zenger as its athletics director. The former Illinois State athletics director will replace Lew Perkins, who retired in September after a ticket scandal and accusations of personal misconduct. Zenger, from Hays, Kan., will start on Feb. 1. He coached football at Drake, Kansas State, South Florida and Wyoming. "My earliest memories are in Lawrence, Kansas, watching KU football and basketball games," Zenger said. "Sometimes in life things come full circle. The opportunity to stand side-by-side with KU's student-athletes, coaches, administrators, donors and fans gives me great joy."
The last word
Greg Connors of the Buffalo News on the added significance of New Year's Day:
"Six weeks until pitchers and catchers report and the Yankees resume overpaying Derek Jeter."