Ex-Cats

Kings scramble to adjust after Willie Cauley-Stein’s injury

Sacramento Kings center Willie Cauley-Stein walked off the court looking at his hand after he sustained an open dislocation of his right index finger late in the fourth quarter against the Boston Celtics in Mexico City on Thursday, Dec. 3, 2015, at Mexico City Arena.
Sacramento Kings center Willie Cauley-Stein walked off the court looking at his hand after he sustained an open dislocation of his right index finger late in the fourth quarter against the Boston Celtics in Mexico City on Thursday, Dec. 3, 2015, at Mexico City Arena. hamezcua@sacbee.com

The loss to the Boston Celtics wasn’t the worst part of the Sacramento Kings’ trip to Mexico City this week.

Rookie center Willie Cauley-Stein suffered an open dislocation to his right index finger late in Thursday’s game when he hit his hand on the backboard while breaking up a pass. He will be out four to six weeks.

“I was disappointed for him,” said Kings coach George Karl. “I think he’s had not a great rookie year but solid to decent rookie year for us so far. I’ve enjoyed coaching him, and I think he’s done a great job of learning the game.”

Cauley-Stein is averaging 4.8 points, 5.2 rebounds and 1.1 blocks in 18.9 minutes. The injury again has Karl scrambling to figure out his rotations.

Cauley-Stein might not average major minutes, but starting him with DeMarcus Cousins allowed Karl to bring in Kosta Koufos off the bench — Karl’s preferred option to back up his All-Star.

But the Kings have had players miss time almost all season. Cousins has missed eight games. Guard Darren Collison has missed five games, and forward Rudy Gay has sat out two games.

“Even though I like playing a lot of people and rotating a lot, there is a rhythm to it that players get used to,” Karl said. “And we haven’t found that rhythm to it yet.”

Losing Cauley-Stein weakens the second unit, and there’s not much time to ponder options. The Kings visit Houston on Saturday and Oklahoma City on Sunday.

“I think right now, just in the situation being on the road, we’re probably going to play it like a playoff game,” Karl said. “Rather than try to be creative and clever, just go out and play your best players and see if it works that way. And unfortunately that’s probably playing Omri (Casspi) — and I say ‘unfortunately’ because that’s a big chunk out of the bench.”

Casspi missed Thursday’s game against the Celtics with a stomach illness. He’s been one of Sacramento’s most consistent reserves, averaging 11.1 points and 6.1 rebounds.

Starting Casspi would mean Gay moving from small to power forward. The lineup could be explosive offensively, but lacks the much-needed defense Cauley-Stein provided.

The Kings have allowed 108.8 points per game, second most in the NBA entering Friday. Opponents have shot 46.9 percent against the Kings, also second highest in the league.

“I’m not saying it digs a bigger hole, but the answer has to come in a different package,” Karl said.

Casspi said he’s over his illness and ready to return. He’s confident Cauley-Stein will return “stronger than ever” and added the Kings need to win despite injuries.

“I feel like we’re at a point now where we’ve kind of learned and been through ups and downs and tough times and now it’s time to come together and start winning,” Casspi said.

Karl said every NBA season has its moments of adversity. The Kings just happened to have a lot of issues during a tough stretch.

Cousins said he expects Cauley-Stein to recover, but like Casspi, added that the Kings need to start winning. Sacramento expected to be better than 7-13.

Cousins said the entire team must make up for the loss of Cauley-Stein.

“It’s going to be an opportunity for another guy to step up,” Cousins said. “We have another young big in Eric Moreland, and he can step and get a couple minutes. It puts more on myself, and Quincy Acy can play as well. It’s just time for other guys to step up.”

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