SACRAMENTO, Calif. - A happy postgame locker room was a rare sight early in the season for the Detroit Pistons, a struggling team that was playing as poorly as any club in the NBA.
But those grim postgame blues have occurred infrequently of late for the surging Pistons, who have won five of seven games.
Rodney Stuckey scored 35 points and Greg Monroe matched his career high with 32 for the Pistons, who used a huge third-quarter effort to pull away from the Sacramento Kings, in compiling a season-high points total in a 124-112 victory Wednesday night.
Despite a poor record, the Pistons (16-27) are only three games out of the eighth and last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The Pistons had a dismal 4-20 record on Feb. 1 when they lost their seventh straight. Since that loss to New Jersey, the Pistons are 12-7.
This is clearly a different team that started the season and it was evident against the Kings. The Pistons were behind by 16 midway through the second quarter, yet dominated the remainder of the game. They shot 58 per cent, made eight of 13 3-pointers, and had 29 assists and only 10 turnovers in an up-tempo game.
"We've been coming together as a team," Detroit coach Lawrence Frank said. "It's a collaboration in a lot of different areas at both ends of the floor. It's not one thing or one player, it's many different things."
There were many different things the Kings couldn't contend with at the defensive end, even though Detroit entered the game as the third-lowest scoring team in the NBA. Left open frequently on the perimeter, Stuckey and Tayshaun Prince (28 points) knocked down shots all game. The pair combined to shoot 7 of 9 from 3-point range.
Monroe got a measure of revenge after a three-point game three weeks ago against Kings centre DeMarcus Cousins, who had 26 points and 15 rebounds in the first meeting. The Detroit centre looked inspired throughout as he dominated inside.
In a battle of second-year centres, Monroe clearly got the best of Cousins in the rematch. Monroe made 15 of 20 shots, grabbed 11 rebounds and had three assists. Foul-plagued Cousins missed 10 of 15 shots and finished with 14 points and seven rebounds.
"Facing him does (motivate me)," said Monroe, who made all five shots in the fourth quarter when he scored 11 points. "We're cool with each other. Both of us are young and focused on being the best players we can be. Tonight I made sure when I got to the rim, I was finishing strong."
The Kings could not slow Stuckey in the third quarter. The veteran guard led the Pistons' 40-23 effort in the third, connecting on four 3-pointers and scoring 19 points as the Pistons built their lead to 97-81 entering the fourth. Stuckey scored a season-high 36 points in the earlier victory over the Kings.
"That guy has been playing great for the last two weeks," Kings coach Keith Smart said.
Detroit made 15 of 20 shots in the third quarter, including all five 3-point attempts, in posting their highest points total in a period this season. The Pistons never let the lead get below eight points in the fourth.
"In the first half, they were killing us in transition," said Stuckey, who had six assists, five rebounds, and matched his career high with four 3-pointers. "In the second half, we got stops. We knew we could score on that team, we just had to stop them from getting so many easy baskets."
Tyreke Evans scored 23 points for the Kings, but left the game and didn't return after a hard fall in the fourth quarter resulted in an injured left ankle. Jason Thompson had 21 points and 15 rebounds for the Kings, losers of three straight games. Isaiah Thomas also had 21 points, and Francisco Garcia added 12.
"They had 40 points in the third quarter and you're not going to win a game if you give up 40 points," Thomas said. "Rodney Stuckey went off and we've got to know when guys are going off that we've got to stop a guy as a team, not just depend on one guy to stop them."
It was a rare road win for the Pistons, who are just 4-16 away from home. It was even more rare to get a West Coast victory, where Detroit hadn't won since picking up a victory Nov. 14, 2010 in Sacramento.
Detroit rookie point guard Brandon Knight had a solid game, contributing 10 points and 11 assists.
Stuckey almost singlehandedly gave the Pistons a double-digit lead in the third quarter when he scored 12 points in a span of 2:28. After converting on a three-point play, Stuckey hit three straight 3s, the final one giving Detroit an 86-71 lead with 3:58 left in the third.
Notes: Prince scored his 9,000th career point, tipping in his own missed shot in the game's opening minute. ... The Kings are 2-3 in the midst of their franchise-record nine-game homestand. ... Evans scored 10 points in the first quarter for the Kings, who shot 59 per cent and led 32-25. ... Thompson made his first six shots and had nine rebounds in the opening quarter. ... Cousins picked up his fourth foul early in the third quarter and was quickly replaced.