NBA

Kings hope to rise to challenge against Bulls

SACRAMENTO, Calif. -- The Sacramento Kings posted victories over both of the NBA's reigning two-time finalists over the past two weeks. They also have lost games to bottom feeders in their Western and Eastern conferences that they were in position to win.

So, it always seems to go -- at least in the seven seasons since DeMarcus Cousins has been wearing their uniform.

"You never know with this team," he said after the Kings' 109-106 overtime win over the Golden State Warriors on Saturday, one of those victories -- similar to a 116-112 overtime win at the Cleveland Cavaliers on Jan. 25 -- that seems to serve as one to build upon.

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How the Kings respond to such a development seems to be the challenge, and their latest opportunity comes Monday night against the Chicago Bulls at the Golden 1 Center.

A night before beating the Warriors, Sacramento (20-31) fell at the buzzer to the last-in-the-West Phoenix Suns, the type of loss that seems to complement most of the Kings' big victories and the kind they say they will need to avoid to make a true playoff push.

"That's the next step we need to take," Kings forward Matt Barnes said after the victory. "Whether we're playing the defending champs or whoever, we need to have the same focus and intensity every night. That's how you become consistent."

Beating the Bulls would be a start. Chicago (25-26) is not lived up to expectations in a controversy-filled season, the latest trouble brewing when assistant coach Randy Brown was accused publicly of providing privileged clubhouse information to general manager Gar Foreman.

Brown defended himself with comments in the Chicago Tribune -- "As a former player, I understand how sacred the locker room is. ... For me to be portrayed as being a snitch really, really doesn't sit well with me. It's not part of who I am." -- and the incident came only two weeks after guards Jimmy Butler and Dwyane Wade publicly criticized teammates, only to see veteran backup Rajon Rondo call them out for their comments.

The Bulls have become a better team offensively since Wade, Butler and Rondo spoke out. Chicago has posted two of their best three offensive performances of the season over their past three games. A 117-point outing was not enough to prevent an overtime loss at Houston on Friday that followed two consecutive wins.

Butler remains questionable for the contest with right heel bruise he suffered Feb. 1 in Oklahoma City. Guards Michael Carter-Williams, Jerian Grant and Rondo all have been contributing productive minutes over the past three games for the Bulls.

"Ever since (the controversy), guys are playing a lot harder, a lot better," forward Taj Gibson told the Chicago Tribune. "We're just getting the ball out quick, and we're pushing. We have athletes. We have guys who can run and jump."

The two teams ran into controversy in their first meeting. The Bulls prevailed 102-99 at home on Jan. 21 after Wade made two free throws with 14 seconds left after a foul on Cousins that the league later said should not have been called.

Cousins had 42 points and 14 rebounds in that game and fell one assist shy against Golden State of posting his second straight triple double. Cousins has averaged 31.3 points per game over the past three despite shooting just 39 percent (24-for-62) from the field during that time. Cousins has 11 double-doubles in his past 12 games.