Kings, Thunder trying to rebound from injuries to star players early this season

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SACRAMENTO, California — It looked as if everything was coming together for the Sacramento Kings.

DeMarcus Cousins was keeping his cool while putting up All-Star numbers. Second-year coach Michael Malone had his team playing defense, and the Kings were consistently beating Western Conference contenders.

One illness ended all that.

Cousins came down with viral meningitis more than two weeks ago, and neither the franchise center nor the Kings (11-13) have recovered yet. Sacramento has gone just 2-7 without Cousins — who remains out indefinitely — heading into Tuesday night's home game against Oklahoma City, which had its own health-related problems while NBA MVP Kevin Durant and co-star Russell Westbrook were out with injuries.

Malone was fired late Sunday night and assistant Tyrone Corbin was promoted to interim coach. A person with knowledge of the moves confirmed the change on condition of anonymity because the team had not announced it yet.

While season-long goals can't be accomplished before Christmas, the Kings and Thunder know they can sure be wrecked.

How teams handle such critical times can go a long way in determining their season. That was basically the message Malone gave to his players last week.

"I told our guys, 'We have no idea when DeMarcus is coming back. So we need everybody to man up and play to the best of your ability,'" Malone said before his dismissal was announced.

Houston has been able to manage injuries better than any team in the league.

Dwight Howard missed 11 straight games with a strained right knee before returning Saturday against Denver. The Rockets (18-5) went 8-3 without the All-Star center.

The Thunder thought they could limit the damage when Durant and Westbrook went down. Instead, they started 3-12 and are trying to make the long climb back up the crowded West standings.

Westbrook returned Nov. 28 after sitting out 13 games with a broken bone in his right hand. Durant came back Dec. 2 after missing the team's first 17 games with a fractured right foot.

Both believe there is enough time left to get the Thunder back in a strong playoff position.


Here are some other things to look for around the NBA this week:

WINNING WARRIORS: The Golden State Warriors have won a franchise-record 16 straight games, which is almost halfway to the NBA record of 33 in row set by the Los Angeles Lakers during the 1971-72 season. The Warriors play at Memphis on Tuesday and host Oklahoma City on Thursday.

LANCE VS. LEBRON: Lance Stephenson and LeBron James will meet for the first time since last season's memorable run-in during the Eastern Conference finals between Indiana and Miami, when Stephenson was caught by television cameras blowing into James' ear. Both are with new teams now, but they still figure to match up against each other when Stephenson's Hornets visit James and the Cavaliers on Monday night.

BIGGEST LOSERS: Philadelphia gained national attention by starting 0-17 and coming within one loss of tying the record for worst start to a season. But the Sixers have hardly been the only big losers this season. Detroit's 13-game losing streak ended with a win at Phoenix on Friday. Charlotte had a 10-game losing streak. Utah had a nine-game skid. The New York Knicks have put together losing streaks of 10 and seven in a row already.

GARDEN SPOILER: As if things couldn't get any worse for the Knicks, it's beginning to look like a very real possibility that Golden State's Steve Kerr — who spurned an offer from mentor Phil Jackson to coach in New York over the summer — could coach the Western Conference in the All-Star game at Madison Square Garden on Feb. 15. The coaches of the teams with the best record in each conference will head the All-Star teams, so long as they didn't coach last year's game. The Warriors entered Monday night with an NBA-best 21-2 record.

BIG THREE: San Antonio beat the Knicks 109-95 on Wednesday without Tim Duncan, Tony Parker and Manu Ginobili. The Spurs are just 5-10 in games the Big Three sit out since they became teammates in 2002.


STAT LINE OF THE WEEK: Blake Griffin scored 45 points, including a 3-pointer as time expired, to lift the Los Angeles Clippers to a 121-120 overtime win against Phoenix last Monday night. He joined Dwyane Wade and Gilbert Arenas as the only players to score at least 45 points and hit a buzzer-beater in the same game in the last 10 seasons.


AP Sports Writer Josh Dubow contributed to this report.


Antonio Gonzalez can be reached at: http://www.twitter.com/agonzalezAP

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